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I'm not guessing you know much about my neck of the woods, so I suppose I'll fill you in. Westcrown's the name of my home, and it was once a pretty prosperous place. Best and biggest port on Olympia's east coast; I guess "crown of the west" came from us being west of Wachara, where most of our ship traffic comes from... what's left of it, anyway. We're tucked along the northeastern corner of Olympia, nestled with the plains to the south and southwest, the ocean to the east, the Titans to the north, and the Sentara Wood and its Elven hideaways to the northwest. Used to be a prime location for ocean travel and trade: ships bound west from Galadae, Olorunium, Iomrall, Naltaskar, heck even the Northlanders send the occasional longship and I've seen one of Anhur's black galleys in my life. Sure, not much trade from Senkaku, but they tend to sail through to Osprey Harbor on the other side of the continent rather than come 'round the Titans' southern island tail to reach us... or Port Haven.
Yeah, Port Haven. That's where everything went wrong for Westcrown. About 200 years ago, give or take, the now-near-legendary Heroes of Haven showed up. They weren't from Port Haven, originally, not a one of 'em. Two were Elves, one from Sentara - from a small town not too far from Westcrown, even, she was - and the other from somewhere in Denvushain, the desert kingdom to the Titans' west. The third was a Dwarf, a seafarer whose homeland was the ocean; only the aspects know where he was born. The other three were human, two from a small town a few days' ride southwest of us called Lake Miaabre, and the third from the royal city of Olympia itself. They were just a bunch of adventurers, really, nothing too special about them to start with; the eventual leader, a half-elf named Amelia Delaer, apparently had a little royal blood in her, and after the big war they were involved in she got crowned queen, since the Yuan-Ti killed off the king at the time as well as all his heirs, and this was apparently better in the eyes of the gods than letting the nobles squabble for the throne. She and her husband, one of the other Heroes named Ezekiel Morwen, are the grandparents of the currently-reigning queen. But that's not the point of this, really.
The Heroes did some pretty amazing stuff. After all, they were successful adventurers and they did participate in one of the biggest wars Olympia's ever seen, as well as a ton of connected and equally awe-inspiring events and battles. The rise of Ratach of Pale Keep, the hobgoblin warlord, and Halaganda Baneglaive, the orcish witch-queen? The Yuan-Ti incursion? The Ghost Ship? The ascension of Ssnethra, Exalted of Nidhoggar? The awakening of the Third Child of Perdition, Tarrasque? And that's just the quick summary version. So yeah, they did a lot. They certainly earned their reputation. Not begrudging them that. They did a lot of good.
By the way, you can thank Tlavyn for getting all those names right. Without his help, I'd never remember half of this historical stuff. I don't have a head for these kinds of details. Who's Tlavyn? Oh, he's the wizard who lives in this coin I have. Don't tell too many people about him though, he doesn't care for the publicity. Sometimes he borrows my brain. It's a bit uncomfortable - I kind of just float along behind him while he's in control of me - but more often than not it's worth the inconvenience. Most of the time though he just tells me the answers to questions I never had the education to learn. I'm a sorcerer, see. I understand the language of magic, the words just kind of fade into my head, but I don't know the theory behind it or any of the history. Tlavyn knows all that stuff, though, and most of the time is eager to share. Most of the time.
Anyway. The Heroes did a lot of heroic stuff. I'm not gonna get into any more details because I don't know them, and I don't wanna hand the reins over to Tlavyn for THAT long, because he'll tell the whole damn story. But after they finished off Ssnethra and her armies and put the Tarrasque back to sleep, they mostly retired - the five survivors of the six, anyway - back at Port Haven. At the time it was just a small fishing village along the southern Olympian coast, and really didn't have any major traffic or trade there, as a lot of ships didn't want to risk the reefs east of the town and the mountains' descending isles to the west. The Heroes - who of course got their name from the place, having headquartered themselves there even before it got popular - settled there, and poured almost all their adventuring wealth into the city, building it up into a major trading city and port almost overnight. Between the sudden growth, location (despite the dangers around, it's closer to Olympia than we are in Westcrown, and Haven's harbor itself is much safer than the surrounding aquatic terrain), and fame of being connected to the Heroes, trade suddenly shifting emphatically southward. And in the echoes, Westcrown started to decline.
Things went downhill from there pretty fast. The rulers soured bad, people started dabbling in things better left untouched. Devils started being called in, or coming in on their own, offering deals and barters and whatever the heck else Devils do. It turned bad quick. By the time I was born, it was bad enough that we'd seceded from Olympia in every manner but officially; as far as I know no one in Westcrown reports to the royal family or the governors, and our governor is more like our king, or queen, or whatever we have. Crime shot up into the mountaintops, but at the same time the hammer of the law came down HARD. Order by force became the rule of the day. If you could operate within the letter of the law, you could get away with anything, and organized, neat, tidy criminal activity thrived, while commonfolk would get hounded by brute thug guards and worse for the smallest accidental infraction.
Needless to say, life in Westcrown is less than pleasant.
My name's Gwyn. Gwyn Vanderbilt. Sorceress, detective, vigilante, and occasionally magical consultant for the branches of the local watch who aren't up to their ears in corruption. I've been here for about seven years, making my living working odd jobs, mostly investigating murders, thefts, and disappearances. That's what I do. It's not much, but it's helped... at least, it's helped my clients. When I don't run into a wall, that is. One usually thrown up by either the powers-that-be or the powers underneath.
I'm running into a lot more of those lately, though. And it's getting worse. Something's rotten in Westcrown, and it's getting more and more rancid as time passes. I'm going to do what I always do - get to the bottom of things. All I need is a clue about where to look first...
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CASE ONE: BASTARDS OF EREBUS
As normal, it all began with a regular case, nothing out of the ordinary. Working for a noblewoman, surprisingly enough, and I didn't get the vibe she was going to do me a wrong turn. It was a kidnapping case - she'd tasked me to find "Louie" and return him to her. I was given a basic description: grey hair with a bit of brown, heavyset, with aggressive tendencies, a love of fine food, and dressed in finery which was probably what had gotten him nabbed in the first place. I was given a scrap of cloth from his belongings for examination... for his scent, to be precise. With that lead, tracking him down was easy - the trail was fresh, and I was able to negotiate through the early-morning crowd without losing it. It led me straight to Mac's.
Mac's is a middle-class tavern and inn not quite on the seedy side but close to it. It's one of my regular haunts, and Mac and Lyra, the barmaid, both know me on sight... usually because when I do show up for something more than just a drink, I usually walk away owing Mac money for repairs. It's not like I'm destructive by nature, trouble just has a way of following me around, and I'm bad with collateral damage. It's part of the job.
Anyway. I figure if I'm going to be poking around Mac's and potentially breaking things, I might as well give him some business first, and head straight to the bar for Mac's potent, patented Morning Pick-Me-Up. I don't know what the devil is in this thing, other than that it's non-alcoholic and fizzles slightly. I figure if you had a keg of this stuff and rolled it down a hill, it'd explode. Mac of course isn't fooled by the nonchalant act, and reads me his version of the riot act - the Glare of Doom and a stern, sparingly-worded threat regarding lack of payment for any damages, which I was quick to assure if anything was broken I would pay for repairs as soon as possible - then lets me off to do my thing. Mac's not much for words, but he really doesn't need to be: I'm fairly certain he's human, but he looks more like somewhere halfway between Dwarf and Orc. He makes it clear he's not taking any nonsense, and all with a Look that requires no vocalization. Mac's about the last person I'd want to cross and not make quick restitution.
I headed back into the back, moving door to door, until I heard the sounds I was looking for - a low growling and a pitiful whimpering - and matched it up with the scent trail I'd been following all morning. The door, predictably, was locked; of all the things I didn't think to bring with me that day it had to be picks, so - with whispered apologies to Mac - I blew the knob off the door. Inside as expected I found Louie curled up on the table, ears back and claws bared, hissing loudly at anyone who got too close, and his catnapper covered in lacerations and bites and slumped on the wall not five feet from the doorway. I made sure my gloves and sleeves were protecting me from cat assault and made to retrieve the hostile kidnappee, and managed to do so - and scare the little bastard into submission - without getting myself sliced to ribbons in the process.
Somewhere in the middle of this a new face peeked in; he didn't seem to be associated with Louie's bloodletting roommate, however, so I asked him to send my apologies to Mac and resumed dealing with the unhappy fat cat. Once secure I was carrying him in a way that wouldn't injure him, wouldn't let him slip loose, and wouldn't let him attack me, I exited as well, informing the bandit that his injuries were probably all the lesson he needed to not repeat this particular event and that he was free to go. In a less-rotten city I'd have cuffed him and taken him in, but stealing a cat - even from a noble - is hardly worth the torture and punishment he'd receive from the Hellknights if I were to arrest him. As disgustingly rife with crime as Westcrown is, it's only tolerant of it if you're good enough not to get caught. The petty thieves and starving urchins who can't keep up get the brunt of the law's hammer, and the real masterminds just keep on keeping on. It's a wretched truth, but there it is.
I paused in the tavern commons to apologize again to Mac and promise him full repayment for the door as soon as I got paid, then exited with Louie in tow. Just outside the bar, I was approached by an unfamiliar woman who introduced herself as Janiven; she asked if I was Gwyn Vanderbilt, and anyone who knows me by name can track me down at my office/home easily so I saw no reason to lie or try to cover myself. Besides, she might've been a potential client. She passed me a card stating simply "Vizio's Tavern - 4 PM", mentioned she had a possibility she'd like to discuss with me, and headed into Mac's. Sounded like a job to me, so I tucked the card away and resumed hauling Louie back to his mistress. She was more than ecstatic to have her incredibly overweight furball returned, and for a job that was relatively simple despite everything else the 20 gold pieces she paid me wasn't too shabby. I pocketed the money and returned to my office for the afternoon, and spent the next couple of hours checking up on this Janiven woman and Vizio's Tavern. Apparently the woman was a business owner of some repute, well-spoken of, no suspicious information from any of my contacts; Vizio's was her latest acquisition, bought directly from the Vizio family. Everything looked on the straight, so I figured no harm in having a look at what this offer entailed.
I arrived about ten minutes early, but there were already people waiting in Vizio's before I got there. Janiven was there of course, standing behind the bar talking to the young fellow from Mac's, who I learned was named Felix; sitting in the far corner was a gangly man in a long coat and plague doctor's mask, an alchemist named Jan, accompanied by a big friendly collie he called Dii. Shortly after I arrived and claimed a seat at the bar with Janiven and Felix, the last invited guest arrived: Martin, one of the diminutive Ratfolk, who despite his size (I'm six foot and change, I dwarf most humans; this guy was shorter than most halflings I've met) was easily the most well-armed and armored of the lot of us. Once he arrived, Janiven was quick to shutter the windows and lock the door before she began her explanation for calling us here.
What she spoke of was nothing less than pure treason. 'Course, it was treason we all agreed with on one level or another - the gangs and underworld running the streets, the Hellknights propping up the economy and security through fear and intimidation, the hells-know-what that keeps people indoors after dark. She spoke of how the city had faded from its heyday - and not once did she mention the Heroes, the Tarrasque, or Port Haven, so credit to her for that - and how despite the visage of prosperity we were continuing to slowly crumble away under oppression and strife. At the last she asked us to join her in fighting for Westcrown - less for its leaders and more for the city herself and her people, for freedom from tyranny and fear, and for prosperity away from the cold-iron grip of Thrune.
Then, right on cue, came the knocking.
It wasn't the Hellknights, but it was about them. A young boy named Morosino had come running with a message - Areal, whoever he was, had been taken prisoner by the Knights and they were on their way. Janiven ushered us to a rear exit that dropped into the sewers just in time for the real iron fist of the Knights to begin banging - then breaking - the door demanding entrance. We escaped into the sewers just as they burst in, but the law was quick on our heels. They pursued us into the tunnels below; we were able to lay a small ambush around a corner and knock them down one by one as they were forced to follow in single file, lining up for the kill, with Martin holding the line with sword and shield while Jan, Felix, and I fired back with crossbows and spells. We let Martin confiscate their potions after finishing them off, then tossed their bodies into the sewer water before moving on.
Following Janiven and Morosino, she led us through the tunnels, following markings on the walls that lead to another of her safehouses. We were waylaid along the way by a small gang of Goblins that had laired up down here, but other than a minor mishap with one of my cantrips we were able to deal with them with minimal injury, with Martin and Janiven holding the front line while the rest of us attacked at range.
Not far past their lair Janiven led us up out of the sewer and into an abandoned, boarded-up temple of Baldr, the dead god of poets and bards, full of people who looked as out-of-place and disheveled as we felt. And they looked about ready to let us have everything they had to give, if we'd looked an inch like Hellknights discovering their bolthole, but Janiven's presence stilled them a little.
Looks like we'd found the revolution. Nice to know we weren't going in alone.
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Assured of our safety inside the temple, we allowed ourselves to relax somewhat and engage some of the waiting crowd in discussion. An erratic-looking gnome named Yakopulio was quickly the first to make herself known, approaching Jan and making several thinly-veiled offers of inappropriate conduct toward him; the rest of the crowd, primarily two men, named Rizzardo and Sclavo, did eventually get her to back down, if reluctantly, and she repeatedly jumped back - often literally - into conversations when she saw an opportunity.
From the looks of things the gathered crowd were people from all walks of life, the poorest dregs of the city to a couple of finer-looking folks, who shared little more (or so it looked) than a desire to see Westcrown free. I can sympathize with that, really. Felix, though, didn't seem interested at first; he approached Janiven a few minutes after everyone got settled and asked for a good reason not to just walk away: the Hellknights who had seen him were dead, and he'd had no association with any kind of revolutionary group prior. She acknowledged his ability to just leave, but warned him word would probably get around, and he reluctantly decided to stick it out. Jan and Martin, meanwhile, just made themselves at home.
The conversation swayed toward what this little band of miscreants was going to call itself. Some of the names were clever if inappropriate (mostly those suggested by Yakopulio) and a few were simply dull, but after some banter we ended up going with Felix's suggestion of "The Returners" - looking to return Westcrown to its rightful state, and bring back the vaguely remembered times of prosperity and, perhaps even more importantly, lack of fear. That done, save for some arguing about ways to identify ourselves - someone suggested cloaks and armbands, which would work if we had the right colors on hand, and in suitable numbers, there were seventeen of us; Janiven went to check the temple's storeroom and found nothing appropriate - we turned to the more important detail, rescuing Arael, the captured man.
Janiven explained that the Hellknights were busy arguing over jurisdiction and trying to decide who got to deal with the captive, and the red tape was buying us some time. Whoever got possession, though, would transport him to Citadel Rivad for "processing" - which, if I've got any guess, probably includes torture for information followed by execution - allowing us to lay an ambush as they traveled. It was agreed that Janiven and the others hiding in the temple would provide a distraction for the convoy's escorts while the rest of us engaged the carriage and its guards directly, then freed Arael. Morosino was sent to find out what he could, and returned a few hours later to report the Hellknights were still dickering about with the legal strings and likely wouldn't transport anyone before morning. We took the opportunity to catch a few hours of sleep in the temple, though someone mentioned a "Blue-Hooded Lady" who was offering a reward for the killing of one of the Shadow Things that stalk the streets of Westcrown after curfew; I couldn't resist jestingly suggesting we kill a few hours of the night looking for one. The rest of the group didn't get the joke and vehemently declined.
The following morning Morosino went out again, then returned and confirmed that the Knights were preparing to get on the move. We left immediately, carrying just the equipment in our packs, and exited town by the road heading north to Citadel Rivad. Shortly along the way was a chokepoint bridge where we made our stand... well, more accurately, we crouched hiding in the bushes, Felix and Martin on one side and Jan and I on the other, though I somehow managed not to get mauled by Dii in the process (animals don't like me much) - and waited for the Hellknights to come bouncing along. Janiven begged us not to actually kill any of the Knights, as she didn't want our group to be harassed by them any more than we already were: beating them senseless and stealing a prisoner might be bad and would surely get us some unwanted attention, but actually killing Knights in the process would get a warrant on our heads faster than you could say "Cantrip".
When the carriage did come along, Janiven and the gang lured off the four mounted escorts through a patch of caltrops heading east along the river, leaving the carriage rumbling along toward the rest of us. Jan tossed out some kind of shattering glass bottle that broke up and blocked their retreat unless they were willing to run through the shards, and Felix and I started the assault, aiming for the leader and the crossbowman atop the vehicle respectively. For a while the battle went on back and forth with us throwing things and shooting spells and crossbow bolts from the bushes and them firing back, but eventually one of the Knights jumped down and rushed Jan; the two of us were able to put him down relatively swiftly, though the dog was almost zero help (thanks, pooch), while Martin closed the gap and started cutting down the Knights who didn't move. We took a couple of hits, nothing life-threatening - even for Jan, who looked like a second bolt would have gone straight through him - and once the lot of them were unconscious, Jan went about making sure none of them would bleed out on us while Felix and I pried the lock off the crate and got Arael out. We informed him Janiven had sent us and the Returners - he seemed somewhat surprised and amused that the group had finally decided on a name - were off keeping the rest of the Knights distracted.
We left the louts there on the bridge, but while we didn't kill them, we did rob them blind - all of them were carrying potions and crossbow bolts, which we split up amongst the group, and the leader, a guy with an impressive-looking helmet, had a holy symbol of Nyx (which I tossed into the river) and the key to the carriage (should have thought of using that before going straight to the crowbar), as well as a note from Aberian Arvanxi, Lord Mayor of Westcrown, himself. The letter referred to the lackluster job the Hellknights were doing in dealing with the Bastards of Erebus, a criminal gang mostly composed of Tieflings. I pocketed the note as evidence, though Jan requested a written copy when we got back to somewhere with quill and ink and paper.
Once we'd retrieved Arael's belongings and used Helmet Guy's keys to get him out of his shackles, we bolted, leaving the scene with a bunch of unconscious soldiers surrounding a partially-burned, glass-strewn, empty prison cart.
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After retrieving Arael, we had to make a detour on our way back to the temple: the four horses we were riding (Martin and I had to share one) belonged to the uncle of one of our merry band, Gorvio, and needed to be returned to their proper owner before they were identified as having been involved in the attack by Hellknights rousing from their unexpected naps. Arael, thank the gods, knew the way to Jacovo's stable, and was able to direct us there with ease.
When we arrived, though, we found we weren't alone. A local opera and theatre star named Thesing Umbero Ulvauno was giving Jacovo hell for not having horses - our horses, not coincidentally I imagine - ready for him the instant he arrived. He was quick to turn his wrath on us when we arrived, and as Felix hurried to try to sate the man's fury he took the brunt of the assault. I was familiar enough with the fellow to know this kind of behavior wasn't out of the ordinary, and was no less surprised when he finally saw me and his tone changed from overbearingly, egotistically entitled to suave and condescendingly charming. (Yeah, I didn't know you could combine those either, learn something new every day.) Had Felix not possessed the wit to tell Thesing we were in a hurry, and the silvered tongue to get him to believe it, he might not have left without practically demanding me accompanying him, likely first back to the theatre then next to his home, no doubt. Thankfully he was disgruntledly content to accept a false name from me, pass a few more insults toward the men, give me one last flirtatious remark, and collect "his" horses and depart. I advised Felix to be more careful about handing out his real name in the future, then once assured by Arael we had no other stops in need of being made we returned to the temple safehouse.
Janiven and the others were already there waiting for us, eager to see Arael again and hear the details of our encounter. We filled them in on what happened, including the ending with Ruffles McJerkin at the stables, then decided to take the rest of the day off. I made a trip back to my apartment, accompanied by Felix for company and conversation as well as the benefit of not traveling alone, to check up for any messages, restock my tobacco, and fill my flasks, then headed back to the temple just in time to beat the sunset curfew.
The following few weeks were spent in preparation for further activities. The Returners expressed an interest in obtaining some training - many of them didn't much like the feel of being little more than arrow fodder or distractions in the prior mission, and wanted us to share a few tricks of the trades with them. I did a few short interrogations and determined there were a handful of them who had potential to use magic, the main thing I'd be able to at least show off, so I started taking them aside one at a time and spending some time with them in conversation, learning a little about their lives and their dreams and potential capabilities. Fiosa, the young halfling woman, didn't seem much interested in my questions; the jeweler Tarvi, however, seemed quite interested in my magic and expressed an interest in becoming a jewelry enchanter. I don't think she has any talent for sorcery, but I think with a little help from Tlav I can point her towards wizardry with some success. The others seemed to quickly find similar comparable companionships - I noted Felix spending time with Amaya and, a bit reluctantly, Yakopulio; Jan, when he was up to it, spent some time speaking with Fiosa in hushed tones; Martin took those who appeared martially inclined off to spar, I recall seeing both Sclavo and Rizzardo trading blows with him.
The other thing was following up on one of the rumors bouncing about the streets - that the small batch of goblins we'd encountered in the sewers following Janiven had been only a part of a larger nest. We tracked the beasts to the lair of their leader, a bearded mongrel calling himself Whitechin, and with a pleasant and somewhat cathartic swiftness exterminated the lot of them along with their mangy goblin-dog. We managed to find a few useful pieces of equipment among their refuse stash of loot, including a scroll that they thankfully hadn't yet discovered and burned. We divided up what of the equipment was salvageable, dumped the bodies in the sewer, and retreated back to the surface and to the temple, where we spent another week in training with the Returners.
The other rumor, of course, is that of the Blue-Hooded Lady and her bounty for the night-stalking things. And I can't speak for the others, but I know in my case that's getting more and more tempting by the day. Less out of need for the money, more out of boredom and a growing irritation with having to abide by a ridiculous curfew every night.
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Laying low was starting to get on my nerves. I understood the reasons for Janiven and Arael not wanting us to attract further attention, but frankly I'm used to a work schedule that keeps me moving five or six days out of a week, and hanging out in the temple was not only causing me to miss out on potential jobs but becoming incredibly dull. Tarvi's magical studies were coming along fine, but other than picking up a little info on some local bandit troubles that were keeping the Hellknights busy - unrelated, unfortunately, to the Bastards of Erebus mentioned in Helmet Guy's letter - we had little further information to go on. It seemed as though my compatriots were equally eager to seek other exploits - Felix managed, by impressive sleight and distraction, to shift That Gnome's attention to Jan instead, and had turned his own focus to Amaya and Mathalen, while Martin continued sparring with the various martially-inclined fellows in the group, with Ermolos being his latest partner.
Despite the apprehension they'd expressed when last I suggested it, this time all three seemed eager and interested when I once again brought up the idea of seeking out the Blue-Hooded Lady's bounty on the night-stalkers.
With no further clues as to where to find her other than to leave proof of the kill outside Mac's, we strode boldly off into the dark, Felix and Martin skulking along the sides of the streets while I kept eyes and nose out for any sign of something odd in the darkness; the scent of blood, fur, and smoke caught my attention moments before a massive cat wreathed in darkness pounced on Martin in (admittedly hilarious in hindsight) oversized rendition of traditional cat-and-mouse. With Tlav's aid, I was able to at least discern the thing's connection to the World's Shadow and the ephemeral energies thereof, and the wispy, wavery shroud it gained from the planar connection frustrated me to no end as it caused several of my spells to fly wildly off-target when my aim turned out to be pointed at an afterimage or illusion. Hate when that happens.
Thankfully, other than it leaping on and reaming Jan to within an inch of his life, we were able to take down the beast with minimal difficulty and an expenditure of ... well, a lot of magic on my part, sad to say. Thankfully there was only one of the beasts, and we had Martin decapitate this one and wrapped it up as best we could in my scarf, then trekked off toward Mac's.
The bartender was equal parts unsurprised and unenthused to see me, and we had quite a one-sided debate - with me doing all the talking and him getting all the winning, of course - about the negotiations for a room for the night so we wouldn't have to trek back either home or to the temple. Sometime in the night the panther's head, which we'd left outside the door as instructed, vanished; thinking ourselves scalped of our prize, we resigned to head back to the temple in the morning and made arrangements for places to stay.
Upon the morning Felix and Martin headed straight back to the temple while Jan and I departed to our respective homes, and surprise surprise, Bluehood had been true to her word and delivered a pouch of gold to each of our dwelling places, with a second left at mine marked "for mouse c/o wizard". I have to admit to doing some grumbling at that, you'd figure as well-known as my business has made me in Westcrown that someone as informed as this would know a sorceress from a wizard when she sees one. Still, it was gold, and payment for a job well done; I delivered Martin his share when I arrived and informed Felix that he'd need to head back to his place to collect his reward no doubt. He seemed eager to depart at first, but expressed well-hidden disappointment when Jan and Martin chose to tag along; thanks to my training in reading people I was able to pick up on his desire to have made the trip with just the two of us. Nevertheless we departed, after entertaining the Returners' amazement at our surviving the night and reporting the death of the shadow panther, and headed toward Felix's apartment shortly before the following nightfall.
When we were attacked again, it was no shadow-cat. This time it was a bulbous, insectile, slime-coated aberration that Tlav referred to as a Shadowgarm, which lunged through the air almost as if flying and pounced directly on Martin while attempting to get through to Jan and I after I'd managed to strike it with an acid spell. Thankfully this thing had much less of an illusory cloak protecting it from our attacks, or perhaps we were simply luckier this time; Martin nearly cleaved it in two as it dove past, and despite it landing a slimy claw on Felix and flailing at the ratfolk's armor, we were able to put it down with some greater effort than dealing with the panther. This thing, when it died, simply evaporated and left behind a brittle black gemstone, which Jan collected and carried as we once again retreated to Mac's.
This time we waited outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of our wayward benefactor. While Jan, Felix, and I stood around the entrance and talked, Martin curled up in the corner of the porch and ended up falling asleep. We never did catch Bluehood; she dropped our gold in bags from the roof, distracting Felix and me at the absolute wrong moment, and swiped the gem right out of Jan's hands before the alchemist could note she was even there. Still, the job was done and the reward delivered, so there wasn't too much to complain about. My debts settled, I headed back inside and got another night's stay from Mac, and once again we made plans to head back to the temple come morning's light.
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And it just keeps getting better and better.
After spending yet another night at Mac's, we all went our separate ways to check up on our personal affairs before meeting back at the temple once again. Lo and behold, what should be awaiting me on my doorstep but a bouquet of flowers... though all dead and laced with the all-too-familiar fragrance of overpriced, low-quality cologne. Seems Lord Highpants had managed to divine my true identity despite the false name, and had made clear his intention to pursue my attentions. Wonderful. I took the flowers if only to find someplace discreet to burn them. Ulvauno had been busy overall, it seemed - on the way back to the temple, I heard some rather unpleasant rumors regarding Felix's... ah... vocal repertoire and the anatomical adjustments necessary to maintain it, and the rumor had spread quickly, seemingly overnight. When I arrived at the temple, Felix and Martin were already there, and Yakopulio was already in the middle of giving the poor scoundrel a ribbing on the subject, and demanding visible proof of its authenticity or falsehood. I gave the man some vocal support and a reproof to the gnome, though admittedly a rather lazy one, then left to first dispose of the flowers by burning them in the incense canisters then join my two comrades. Jan and his dog arrived shortly after, and he added two tickets to an extremely poor-quality opera to the pending inferno.
Once the censers were steadily burning by the window where the scent wouldn't bother any of us further inside, we four were approached by Janiven and Arael, who informed us at last that they had gotten information regarding the Bastards of Erebus - namely, the location of their lair. Eager as we were to see a major street gang taken down, we managed to rein in our reaction and consider the idea of sufficient force, and after some discussion game to the conclusion of asking some of the Returners to accompany us. We ended up taking both Arael and Janiven as well as Sclavo, the knight in training, with the plan being for Arael and Sclavo to accompany us to the lair and Janiven to join us in the infiltration while the other two, once we were securely inside, returned to the temple and stood watch against a retaliatory attack by the Bastards, just in case. Felix proposed the plan to the two leaders, who agreed and gave their support, and I recruited Sclavo to the cause. The midday was spent securing supplies and sufficient equipment for the trip, and I ended up spending the vast majority of my spare coinage on scrolls to bolster my protections as well as give myself some more options beyond basic assault spells and smacking things with my staff.
That afternoon, well before nightfall to avoid getting caught by another shadow-cat or worse one of those ungodly things, we headed toward the district where Janiven's contacts had located the Bastards' lair. Felix had made and paid for an agreement from the local watch to be elsewhere during this time, giving us less militia cover and a greater chance of not being noticed by the thieves' lookouts. He, Janiven, and Martin snuck into the complex while Jan, Arael, Sclavo, and myself waited out on the fringes, away from where we'd been informed that their lookouts would be able to see and sound an alarm, listening for the sounds of entry, combat, or any other signal from Felix to approach. I'm not sure exactly what the schemer did, but after a sharp rapping echoed through the streets it was followed by a loud crack, and I began moving in to investigate. It was quickly followed by the grunts, clatter, and muffled screams of battle, and I picked up the pace, leaving Jan and the others behind in my haste to catch up.
I found the trio in a scuffle with a bloated maggot-like creature and lent a spell and a dagger to finishing it off; even after it keeled over it still took a stab from Felix, myself, and Martin all before it would cease twitching and undulating, disgusting thing. We searched the area and found little other than a stray gemstone and the trappings of a long-abandoned, mostly-empty apartment, but a slightly-sloping tunnel descended into the area below where we'd been informed the Bastards' lair was supposed to be. With Martin in the lead, we descended, weapons and spells at the ready, and came to a small, cramped corridor blocked by a pair of skeletal wolves - Necromancy, though basic, seemed to be in working order for Bastard defenses. Martin was able to successfully hold both creatures at bay while the rest of us battered back with blade, bow, staff, spell, and solvent, and the two guardians were destroyed in short order.
Some welcoming committee. I'm both eager and worried to see what awaits further in.
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The skeletal wolves weren't the only guard dogs the lair had. Moments after clearing them out, Martin pushed through a rusty, creaky door that stirred the attentions of three living defenders, large dogs with a trace of infernal taint to them, if Tlav's insight was to be trusted. These managed to do a bit of a number on us, especially when one nearly tore off Jan's leg before the alchemist scrambled away to tend his wounds. Their demonic... err, devilish, Tlav says... taint made them annoyingly resistant to my normal magic, forcing me to either attempt to brute-force them (which didn't work out so well) or to rely on non-elemental spells or just hitting things with my staff. Martin and Felix fared better, as did Janiven once I took the torch and freed her hands up to use her bow.
We managed to kill the dogs, but they'd done their job and stirred up an alarm; when we progressed down the hall and around a corner, crossbow bolts began flying at us out of the darkness. Jan was able to point us toward the enemies, despite my and Martin's normal night-vision being dulled by the torch I was carrying and Felix and Janiven's sight being limited to its light, so we attempted to take the fight to them instead. We suddenly found ourselves a little overwhelmed as what began as two tiefling brigands suddenly became four plus a fifth clothed in some kind of cloth wrappings, who quickly revealed himself to be a spellcaster.
They also revealed they had a superior grasp of tactics compared to the last foes we'd fought, the goblins and the hounds both living and undead. As since Jan was clearly dealing the most harm to their cause with his alchemical weaponry they quickly turned their focus on him, and after a shot to the chest followed by a shot to the head the masked and robed man fell in a still heap. When you're in the business I'm in, you see people die. You either kill them - defending yourself, trying to stop a fleeing criminal, or due to them resisting arrest - or you're witness to a murder or another officer of the law doing likewise. Living people knocked over don't fall like that unless magic is involved, and the caster had only been targeting Felix and Martin, with little success. Jan had simply been shot, and dropped like a sack of bricks.
Mortal life is so bloody fragile.
That was about where the tide turned, though. I pulled one of my color spray scrolls out and took one of the tieflings out of the fight, and Janiven charged up and pounced on the caster, pinning him down so Martin could knock him out, and Felix and I tag-teamed a third with a spell-stab one-two punch. The last remaining tiefling attempted to flee, but Felix, Martin, and Janiven were able to chase her down and knock her out before she got too far or made too much noise.
We decided, after confirming Jan was indeed dead and nothing further could be done for him, to interrogate the caster before moving on. I shackled his hands behind his back - no magical funny business while we're interrogating - and took care of executing the other criminals. I was very forthright with the guy, once we brought him around: he could help us, at which point I'd try to get him a lenient sentence and turn him over specifically to the local watch rather than the Hellknights, or he could continue to resist and we'd deal with him like the brigand, thief, and criminal he was. He tried to headbutt me, so I punched him (pure reflex, I assure you) and knocked him back out. Felix, who had been playing Good Cop opposite me, agreed that he wouldn't be very cooperative or helpful if we bothered to bring him around again, so we executed him as well and searched his body for anything useful. He had a potion, which I passed on to Felix before we continued deeper into the Bastards' lair.
We came next to a large, open room that seemed to be a sort of residence, and were immediately charged by a massive, muscular tiefling man whose claws made up for the fact that he wasn't carrying a weapon. I put a stop to that - literally, by sticking him in place with one of Jan's Tanglefoot Bags. Pinned down, he was a sitting duck and Martin and Felix made quick work of him, enough to impress the three other tieflings in the room to drop their weapons and surrender. They informed us, when I tried the interrogation method again, that their leader's name was Palaveen and that his study was in the room beyond the door ahead, an area they were - as they stated repeatedly - not allowed to enter, so they didn't know what kind of defenses, bodyguards, or companions he had in there. I told them to run, and inform any of their friends they met that the Bastards of Erebus died today; they took the hint and vanished.
Felix confirmed the door wasn't trapped, but reported someone had cast an invisibility spell on the other side. (Nice to know one of us can identify magic... I never managed that skill. Too many other things I've needed to study or practice for my job....) I passed out acid flasks I'd collected from Jan's body, hoping they'd do us some good in the room ahead, then we gathered around the door and Felix threw it open. Two more skeletal dogs greeted us, but we took care of them swiftly; Palaveen however assaulted us with a spell, then when we returned fire fled across the room, forcing us to pursue. Once the dogs were dealt with we moved to surround him, and he struck me with a spell; there's a weird side-effect to the power in my blood that gives me my magic that causes people who hurt me to suddenly gain a weakness against my magic.
I turned him into an ice cube.
After Martin had hacked off enough of the frost to search his body, I found a key that went to the large chest in the back of Palaveen's chamber. Inside we found several supplies, lots of stolen goods - trust me, I'm in the business, I know stolen contraband when I see it - and some useful trinkets. We agreed as a group to return the stolen stuff to its rightful owners, and I made a note to start tracking them down first thing in the morning, after first tending to giving Jan a proper burial. We also found, on Palaveen's desk, a letter confirming a connection between the Bastards of Erebus and a semi-mythical, urban-legendary group known as the Council of Thieves.
The plot thickens.
We returned to the temple, reported the good and bad news to the Returners, saw to Jan's rest in the church's graveyard, and rested for the night. The next day I went to Mac's to break the news to Lyra, as the barmaid seemed to have been close with him when we visited together during our hunts for Bluehood. Over the next few days I tracked down the proper owners of all those stolen things the Bastards had; I eventually managed to deliver everything except a small cache of weapons, whose proper owner had been killed by the Bastards and left no heirs, spouse, or next-of-kin; without any better options, we divided them amongst ourselves and the Returners, swearing to do exactly what we'd come together to do in the first place:
Defend our gods-damned city from anyone who'd do her or her people harm.
End Case One: Bastards of Erebus.
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CASE TWO: THE SIXFOLD TRIAL
I do believe in all my years of working cases on the streets of Westcrown, this is the most bizarre call I've yet entertained.
It started simply enough - a summons by Janiven to return to the shrine one morning, after a few weeks of returning to normal day-to-day work, mingled with some visits to continue our training of the Returners. Martin, Felix, and I met along the way and arrived at the shrine together, to find the Returners sitting around as per normal while one of the side rooms was shut, with low voices issuing forth from within. Felix and I took up a place along the wall just outside, pointedly not questioning That Damned Gnome playing with sovereign glue, and listened in for a few moments before Felix's scuffling got us noticed and the door appeared to open of its own accord. The figure that stepped forth, a dark-haired woman in a blue cloak, quickly identified her as Ailyn Ghontasavos alias Bluehood, our erstwhile unseen benefactor and employer, who then invited us into the discussion.
In addition to Janiven and Arael awaiting inside, there were two more unfamiliar faces - an armored tiefling woman going to extreme lengths to show off every bit of her otherworldly heritage, and a half-elven woman juggling a sharpened wooden stake, both sitting with their chairs tipped back and their feet propped up on the table. Before I had much opportunity to get over the shock and surprise of seeing another tiefling, this one in the shrine itself, Ailyn had already begun with the discourse of explaining the reason for her visit and revelation of herself. She sought to gain entrance - or for us to do so in her stead - to Delvehaven, an abandoned and sealed museum heavily defended and trapped by the Thrunes after it had been closed. Simply forcing entrance would not be an option, due to the defenses said to be in place, so finding an alternate safer route inside was the next best option; finding that route, however, required information and resources currently stored inside the estate of Mayor Aberian Arvanxi. And since breaking into that was suicide waiting to happen, Ailyn had another plan to get access.
And handed us a flyer announcing open auditions for The Six Trials of Larazod, a masochistic "murder play" featuring live monsters, real combat, and a very real potential of actual death on-stage.
Oh joy, oh bliss, oh frabjous day.
She was quick to assure us - including the tiefling woman in "us", much to her and our surprise and her immediate dislike - that the only reason the uncut version of the deadly play (the version that, as irony demands, was being auditioned for) had never been completed successfully without the entire cast dying was because they had never used trained adventurers and warriors for the cast before, instead relying completely on combat-untraned actors. With this heartening statement, she quickly bid us farewell and ducked out before her companion could get her claws around her neck, and disappeared into the courtyard. The tiefling woman introduced herself, extremely reluctantly, as Anzara and agreed with great distaste to accompany us to the audition that afternoon.
By the time we arrived, the line - such as it was - was already quite short, and the sounds of shouting and hurled insults quite unmistakable from beyond the doors. We took up the remaining chairs - jostling for the final position, eventually forcing Felix into the lead and Martin somewhat cheating by not claiming a seat at all and simply standing at the end of the row - and waited for a few minutes, watching as two would-be actors fled the theatre in tears and the last before us abandoned his seat before even entering the audition hall. The source of the bellowing - a tall, finely-dressed man with a monocle and a set of lungs worth four times his clothing - stepped out moments later, demanding to know if this was the last of the would-be applicants, before inquiring as to whether or not Felix could handle a sword; when he drew his blade "and didn't grab the sharp end", he extremely disgruntledly ushered us four inside with commands and rampant condescending commentary. (The man has a gift for disguising the more distasteful reactions in finery suited to more charming breeds of language, one I must admit to somewhat envying.)
Maestro Ironlungs - Robahl something, the director, we soon learned - lined us up on the stage and put us through the rigors of his audition, beginning first with passing out a passage for us to read. It was obvious that Felix was trained in the arts, and equally so that Martin and I were not and that Anzara was taking nothing of this seriously. After that he instructed us to volley insults at him; this I must admit I joined Anzara in enjoying immensely, and while Felix's was flowery and perhaps a bit ham-laden the Monocle Man seemed unimpresed, and Martin had a tough act to follow. The third test involved reading a passage while having rocks thrown at us from the gallery floor; I went first and a mere sentence in took a blow directly to the head, and my memory of the rest of that section of the tryouts was fuzzy at best. Thankfully Anzara proved capable of mending wounds when she felt like it, and her magic cleared my head in time for the fourth audition, which involved reading a passage then attacking a bag of sand swung at us by Millech, a hunchbacked stage hand and illusionist, mid-performance. Again my agility didn't have much to offer me - a mere sentence in the bag struck me in the face, bloodying my nose and sending me once more hobbling off-stage.
Despite his frustrations, or perhaps because of them, we nevertheless managed to land the parts - Felix, unsurprisingly, being granted the role of Larazod the tiefling heretic, I the part of Dentris the aged wizard mentor, Martin the position of Tybain the paladin and comic relief, and Anzara gleefully claiming Drovalid the turncoat torturer.
Our roles assigned, Sir Bullhorn called forth the rest of the cast - two women, one an operatic cliche given life and the other a much thinner and younger actress, followed by none other than Smuglord himself, Thesing the Upstuck. After trading a few barbs with Felix and openly eyeballing Anzara, he made a point of asking if I'd received his flowers; of course I lied and said no, and that he'd probably gotten the address wrong, which he seemed to buy but then prompted him to ask for a corrected address to see to it that the next delivery - which was rather bluntly hinted to not involve flowers - arrives as expected; I told him there was no need to bother with the trouble, but I'm certain that he never quite heard, as his eyes had already begun wandering back to Anzara when she began adding suggestions of her own. Robahl broke it up before it got too aggressive, though, but I doubt this will be the last such skirmish we have with Lord Ruffles.
After all, we've only a week - all of it spent in practice and rehearsal - before The Six Trials of Larazod is to be shown before the Westcrown elite, and the lot of us risk life and limb as well as reputation just for a chance to break into the Arvanxi estate.
Can't you just feel the anticipation.
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So spending the rest of the day in initial setup, we were introduced to the rest of the cast - of course His Cloudsniffingness, playing the antagonist Haanderthan, as well as two women - a Lady Calesenca (or something like that, I didn't get to speak with her much) playing the female lead Ilsandra, and a Visbaroness Delour Something playing the Speaker in Dreams herself. There was also Millech, the hunchbacked stageman, who was far more clever and cooperative than his appearance and sparse speech (though he was still giving university speeches compared to Mack) might have suggested, and an accomplished illusionist, who I managed to get to know a little more closely and who seemed cooperative, if frustrated by the lack of information being provided about the plans for the play's ultimate performance and the part the mayor's funding would be providing. We were introduced, then rehearsal was called off for the rest of the day as we four newcomers were put through the rigors of fittings. This was really the moment I had found myself most dreading - costuming would require me getting undressed, and that would make my ... unusual skin patterns on my legs and hands impossible to ignore. Thankfully the costumer didn't seem too suspicious, and took my story of the "scale rash" being non-contagious and currently contained from spreading further by regular clerical visits at face value, and asked no further questions. Things went uneventfully the rest of the day until Anzara went in for fittings; once that task was complete, she saw fit to excuse herself, and it was several minutes before we noticed she'd left, and - with much complaint from Robahl - left with scripts in-hand to track her down. We found her, expectantly, burning an unidentified prayer book at Mack's.
We spent the evening in the bar, alternating between food, drinks, discussion of the play and our situation and the tasks planned, and Anzara deciding to barb me regarding my single status and my lack of involvement with romantic partners. This of course was done bluntly and without an ounce of tact... and I thought I was bad at diplomatic conversation... though I think she does it deliberately, as she can be rather silver-tongued when she wants, from what we've seen of her thus far. This of course prompted some initial interest from Felix, then complete withdrawal from the conversation when I attempted to smoke off some of the stress and found myself once again under Mack's gaze, making quite plain his dislike of the idea of me starting a fire - no matter how small - under his roof. Thankfully Anzara eventually broke down and lit the pipe for me, but as the ribbings continued I found myself all too swiftly pulling on empty air. It was shortly after this that Felix and I chose the time to depart and return to the safehouse before dusk fell. I admit I probably left far more quickly than necessary, but I was probably an unfamiliar shade of red by the time I managed that escape, and I doubt Felix failed to notice.
We arrived at the shrine to find Arael stuck in place to the spot where That Gnome had been playing with the glue, while Vahnwynne - the half-elven vampire hunter - observed ruefully and Janiven was off somewhere looking for solvent to free the poor priest from his newfound prison. We relayed the information of the goings-on of the day, recanting what of it we needed to when Janiven at last returned; it was around this same time that Martin and Anzara caught up to us, and I mistakenly let slip that Yakopulio had been the one behind the prank; Anzara immediately disappeared into the back rooms, where Yako had been lurking after her prank went off, and we didn't see her again until Arael was free and then quickly excused himself to break up the conversation the two troublemakers were having. Anzara spent much of the rest of the evening in a sulk, and eventually drifted off to sleep on a bench; Felix, Martin, and I retired to our separate rooms not long after things calmed down after Arael was freed, and I spent the night reading over my script a few times before drifting off.
The following day we were up shortly before dawn, save Anzara, who would not rouse for all our attempts until Ailyn reappeared, at which point she bounded fully over the back of the bench and grabbed onto the woman's arm, eventually dragging her most of the way to the theatre with us before at last she slipped free and disappeared into the labyrinth of alleyways; I was forced to drag Anzara the last few yards to the theatre door, just in time to be faced with a bellowing, red-faced Robahl demanding to know why we were late. Thankfully he didn't bother to waste much time waiting for an answer beyond our initial half-hearted excuse of "Anzara has stage fright", and we resumed practice shortly after. This time we ran through several portions of the first act - frequently interrupted or harangued by Anzara, who had no active participation with Drovalid until Act 2 and found herself excessively plagued by boredom and mischief - and subjected ourselves to a battery of shouts, insults, commands, and general abuse from the Great Commander. We eventually broke after the act passed and spent much of the next hour conversing with our fellow actors, with Martin and I spending most of our time sharing miseries and discontent with Millech regarding the status of the play and its resources, while Felix attempted to get on Robahl and Thesing's good sides, with somewhat moderate success. I did manage to inform Felix of what Millech had told us, as well as warning him of The Great One's womanizing penchant having now settled its gaze on Calesenca's dress, and suggested that he do what he could to keep an eye on them and make sure nothing untoward was going on.
I have a feeling the rest of the week is going to be no less of a rough ride.
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Gods and avatars above, where do I even start?
So we hauled ourselves back for a third day of practice, just in time to be informed that the costumes had been adjusted and we would be doing further rehearsals in-costume. The lot of us went off to change... except Anzara, who insisted upon being difficult. First she complained about not wanting to bother with the costume, then she griped about her part requiring her to use a whip which she claimed to "not know how to use" - gods above only know what she meant by that, it's not as if it's a foreign weapon with six different parts or anything - and even got into an argument with Robahl about wanting to improvise her lines that ended with him screaming even louder than he usually does. I pulled her aside for a talk some time later, trying to explain that none of us (save perhaps Felix) really wanted to be here any more than she did but it was a necessary evil to get us access to the vault in the mayoral manor - which I was not so foolish as to mention aloud in public - and got nothing more than a brushing aside of, "I don't want to do this. I don't do things I want. When people try to make me do things I don't want to do, I make them miserable." Ye gods, woman, how old are you? Argh! I even went so far as to attempt bribery, offering to buy her a drink - which she upped to a drink and a meal - for the rest of the week if she would simply be cooperative, and then after soliciting my agreement to the changed offer proceeded to refuse to cooperate yet again.
Thankfully, though, she eventually turned her mischief on Thesing, after tormenting the stage crew looking for ribbons and stealing a bunch of something (I never saw) from the dressing room with intent to improvise for... whatever. When she asked if I had any I could "lend" her, I replied no, but informed her I had manacles and a scarf, which she eagerly took instead, and proceeded to invite Thesing out for a night on the town after the rehearsal day ended, to which the Lord of All He Surveys was all too happy to accept. Whatever, it rid them both of my hair for an afternoon, I had little complaints at the time and returned to my script and working with Felix and Millech, and making some time for conversation with Calesenica.
After rehearsal we headed to Mack's, with intent to wait until Anzara arrived so I could pay my nightly due - and with hopes that before giving it to her I'd get her to realize that if she didn't at least attempt to play along I'd be not so gracious with my spare coin. She arrived at the last possible moment, stumbling drunk and giddy, and shared with us a disturbingly-disjointed account of how she'd seduced His Chin-ness in some unfamiliar tavern, got them both drunk out of their minds, and left him nude and shackled to the bed with my manacles. (Which thank all the gods were not marked or branded or otherwise identified as such in any way, and thus both replaceable and without any direct connection between me and the scene of the crime!) We eventually left her there, and according to Martin's later account Mack gave her a room rather than allowing her to brave the night terrors while incredibly intoxicated, while the rest of us returned to the safehouse for the evening, luckily not meeting any unpleasantness in the dark.
Morning came too soon, and broke with Janiven arriving and voicing complaints about someone leaving Thesing shackled up in her establishment, Vizio's, the very tavern where this whole wild carriage ride began. We shared what we knew of Anzara's antics, then quickly made our way back to Mack's to fetch her before heading in to the theatre. Somewhat surprisingly, we beat Thesing there, despite being further delayed by a crowd of anxious would-be fans loitering on the streetside nearby and eager to see a bit of performance by the actors-to-be in the much-hyped play.
By some miracle, Anzara was the picture of cooperation this day, revoking much of her complaints and irritating questions of the day before and being generally cooperative throughout the entire performance, though quite tight-lipped when Robahl made (progressively more) common complaints about the lack of Thesing's presence. His Lordship did at last arrive a little after noon, and ignored the roaring director to march straight up to the resident tiefling and, after several incoherent growls of rage and never managing a sentence further than "YOU...!!" finally stormed off to the dressing rooms to clean up, and spent the remainder of rehearsal glaring at Anzara while snarling out his lines.
Amusing and probably well-deserved, almost enough to make me forget the entirety of her antics from the previous two days. Certainly enough to make me forgive them. Though I can't forgive her judgement, apparently whatever happened between the two of them before or during the extreme intoxication and the shackling Thesing to a bed in Vizio's, it's given Anzara a view of the man of "I don't see why you all dislike him so much, he's not so bad". Then again, in our conversations over the past week it's become very clear Anzara and I have extremely different mindsets and priorities. Oh well.
As it was, the remainder of the week went fairly smoothly, and Thesing was able to control his temper after a day to the point where he only managed a few glares at her each day but nothing more. Being the suspicious sort I am it makes me wonder if he's been plotting something, perhaps a mishap or miscalculation during the play that's likely to get us all killed or injured. I'm probably being paranoid, but it doesn't hurt at all to be prepared. Before the actual performance I'll have to see about acquiring healing from some source other than Anzara, just in case. A wand would be amazing, but I doubt I can afford it right now; potions may have to do.
Two more days. Full dress rehearsal and stage performance tomorrow, then after that, The Six Trials of Larazod goes on stage, for good for for ill....
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The dress rehearsal was, surprisingly enough, for a live audience and despite the lack of being informed of such in advance we managed to stumble through with minimal disruptions or errors, earning very little abuse from the observing crowd (who had come ready and armed with rotten fruit and other unpleasantries, so thank all the Avatars for that) and a less-scathing-than-usual backhanded compliment from our Chair Commander. We were given the rest of the evening to ourselves and informed to be at the Nightshade Theatre promptly two hours after noon, two hours prior to the intended curtain-rise time. Like always, we retreated to Mack's for the evening; shortly after arriving Anzara managed to weasel her way past him and into his back room, where Mack promptly shut her in... then discovered she'd taken up cooking for him there. Her meals weren't bad at all, either. If the adventuring life doesn't work out for her in the long run she could make a decent living as a chef, I think... but don't tell her that, priestesses of war gods tend not to like the suggestion that they set down their swords.
Other than a sharp-tongued and suspiciously-humored barb from Thesing upon our arrival - masked under an oily pleasantness that was enough on its own to put me on edge, we've known Thesing long enough to know he doesn't play nice unless he expects to gain something from it - everything appeared ready to go. We had a last-minute pep talk with Millech and Calesenica, and were notably unnerved further when Robahl returned pale-faced from speaking with a man with a dastardly-looking goatee. He informed us that the man would be providing the "monstrous entertainment" for the night's performance, but little else. And I swear when he said it Thesing's grin doubled in width until it almost could have severed his head clean through and popped off the top half. Nevertheless, the show must go on, as they say. The curtain rose and we had no choice (that wouldn't get us murdered by Robahl or ruin our long-term plans) but to perform and do our best to stay alive.
The first few acts were, compared to what was to come, fairly mundane. The first was nothing but dialogue, the second involved Anzara whipping Felix while he was strapped to a large rotating wheel, and the third involved handing out skin-burrowing worms to all of us then having us slice and pry them free with knives; luckily between acts while the curtain was down Anzara was able to tend to some of our wounds without going against her character's role as a torturer by handing out healing magic. The fourth involved Calesenica's character being tossed into the metaphorical fires with the four of us, and the lot of us being hauled inside a gigantic glass lizard-thing filled with acid. Thankfully between my rope, Anzara's claws, and Felix and Martin's natural agility and nimbleness, we were able to escape mostly unscathed, though that length of rope is going to be useless for anything in the future.
Following that was when things became more unpleasant. Act Five began with the five of us being offered red eggs to eat, which in the story of the play were supposed to cause us to "birth" devilish clones of our souls or some such. What ended up happening was we retched up the noxious concoction that the eggs were made of, then our backstage "provider" summoned up a batch of devils - Lemures, according to Tlav - for us to fight. And while the little slimy pests were resilient against ice and fire, they were less so against electricity, and I was able to wound a few of them in my opening barrage. After that, not wanting to expend too much of my magic too soon, I stuck to firing lesser rays from a distance, with Calesenica and a retching Anzara crowding behind me until the latter recovered and could get back into the fray, while Martin bashed one senseless with his blade and Felix danced around the others that had surrounded him, able to keep up with the warrior's assault only because his silver dagger could pierce their hides better than Martin's plain steel longsword. (In retrospect, I should have probably offered my silver knife to Martin, I wasn't doing anything with it, and it might have sped the process along nicely.) We eventually vanquished the little blackguards, and the play continued without more than a moment's hesitation.
Act Six was, easily, the worst of all. After a long set of dialogue - where I got so caught up in doing my character's main tirade that I ended up rolling over a few of Felix's lines, to the disdain of the audience - we were thrust into the final combat of the play: two skeletal trolls! The beasts shrugged off my lightning blast that had nearly dissolved the Lemures, and one nearly tore Martin in half in its opening salvo. Thankfully after that Anzara threw in-character behavior to the wind and tossed out some much-needed healing magic, mending most of the warrior's injuries and blasting the skeletons with positive energy, then waded into the melee with her mace while I switched to acid missiles and Felix picked at them with his crossbow as best he could, and Calesenica - unarmed throughout the entire play, and apparently not informed as to the extent of the threat to her person on-stage - hiding behind the two of us the whole time. Other than that one close call for Martin, we thankfully made it through that last fight unscathed.
Act Seven was the play's denouement, and Delour finally appeared as Nyx herself to deliver justice to Thesing's Haanderthan - and it wasn't hard to tell that His Greatness's screams of rage were completely out of character as the Fat Lady dragged him to the trapdoor at the stage's center and descended into the understudy chambers below. At that point, it was best the play was over anyway: the lot of us were exhausted, most of my magic spent and I'm sure Anzara wasn't much better off, Martin was still somewhat injured and... well, Felix seemed fine, though he was complaining about wasting his fire-bolts. Martin, Felix, and I bid our co-stars farewell and headed to Mack's as usual, though Anzara went her own way, saying she "needed to hit something".
Thank the Aspects that's over. Now we just have to go to the after-party... and rob our host, of course.
Why did I accept this job again?
The invitations came a few days later - Anzara's, predictably, came to me since she hadn't left anyone an address, presuming of course she had a permanent residence at all. Shortly later that day, we were called up to head to the safehouse for another meeting. When I got there, Anzara was bench-pressing a bench out in the common room, while the door to the meeting room was open and I could hear familiar voices - Felix, Arael, Janiven, Vahnwhynne, and Ailyn - discussing something inside. I passed Anzara's invitation to her - or more accurately the quick note I'd made regarding it, since the invitations were delivered verbally by courier - and she proceeded to claim she didn't know what I was talking about for a few minutes, before grinning like a spoiled cat and snatching the note, then rushing off after Martin into the meeting room. Frustrated by the prank, I followed, and Ailyn and Janiven proceeded to fill us in on the goings-on regarding the party, informing us a bit about the state of the party and what we'd be going looking for. Sadly the whole thing was troublesomely vague, meaning we'd be required to find out much of the details on our own.
After this, Anzara made a one-off comment regarding my cats and potential airborne velocities thereof, followed by bolting out of the room and disappearing into the catacomb streets. Irritated and perhaps a little paranoid of whatever prank she might be planning now, I headed home, thankful that Felix offered to come and help keep my pets - not just cats, but a few birds and dogs as well ... I like animals more than most people, what can I say? - safe from whatever jest our priestess had in mind this time. She never showed, which was probably the best prank she could have pulled in that situation period, and I ended up pulling out an old cot and letting Felix crash on the couch where I usually sleep.
Predictably, the day of the feast - the highbrow locals call it "The Cornucopia" - was relentlessly stormy and raining. Felix and I had umbrellas at least, and I paid for a carriage to round us up; we headed to the temple to pick up Martin and Anzara, the latter of which - unless this was another joke - seemed to have forgotten both that today was the party and that she was supposed to come in her Drovalid costume, and we had to wait for her to clean up and change since when we arrived she'd been cavorting out in the rain like a lunatic. Thankfully we were able to get her cleaned up and arrive at the party without being late.
When we arrived, the mayor's servants were rain-soaked and bedraggled while holding up a tarp-tent-thing over the walkway heading into the grounds, which allowed us to spare the umbrellas and coats some after getting off the carriage before we reached the door. Mayor Arvanxi's majordomo, a woman named Crosael, introduced us to the crowd, and without any further clues we started meandering amongst the visitors, hoping to stumble across some useful information.
Anzara, at least, had the first stroke of luck. She immediately approached Delour, who was extremely eager to share gossip about the rest of the crowd, pointing her toward various other members of the crowd. Martin, sitting nearby and sampling the first plates of hors d'oeuvres, overheard enough of their conversation to report back to Felix and me, and Felix began making his way through the crowd with the information. He ended up speaking with a drunken woman looking like she was wearing a chandelier, who was just as eager to share gossip as our opera diva.
Me, I'm less forward, so I simply wandered about, listening on bits of conversation and taking note of people without getting directly involved in conversation. At first there was little luck, other than when I poked my head into the miniature rose garden at the north side of the gathering I noted for a few seconds that the roses appeared to be maggot-ridden and dripping blood; a double-take later and all was normal, but the image persisted in my mind and I couldn't discard what I'd seen so easily. I informed Felix of what I'd seen, and he attempted to make his way that direction, only to be intercepted by a bald, grinning man who was far too eager to get into a conversation with him.
I eventually stumbled upon a bit of an opportunity when one of the guests, a grizzled-looking naval commander, mistook Martin for one of the servants and began demanding a drink. I snatched one from a servant and brought it in his stead, and with Tlav's aid - I lost count of how many times that night that grouchy old coin saved my hide - regaled him with old war stories enough that he was willing to share some conversation at a party he was very much not interested in attending except out of noble propriety.
He informed me that the magical effects and resources within the entire manor were not mere parlor tricks, but rather powered by an imprisoned pit fiend within the depths of the grounds somewhere. I apparently wasn't good enough at hiding my surprise or apprehension, as his next response was to laugh and inform me "Athene is more prone to concede defeat than that devil to burst its cage". We shared a few more tales before he checked his timepiece and declared himself needing to depart to see to his fleet, and I resumed my meandering.
Felix approached me moments later, but before he could get out whatever he'd come to tell Calsenica was at his arm, intent on seizing the attentions of "her Larazod" for the rest of the evening. I personally didn't want to share the full details of what the admiral had told me while the room was so crowded, and furthermore I'd noticed one guest - a woman named Chammady of House Drovenge, if my memory served right, with bright red hair and far too much makeup - giving the group of us far too much direct attention. I managed to break off from Felix and Calsenica and approach her, but in the ensuing conversation I felt far out of sorts - I'm supposed to be the unreadable one, but this woman's face was a mask the Grey Lord would have envied. (That's the right god, right, Tlav? Thain? Yes? Okay.) I didn't get much information out of her at all, except some cryptic comment about "dining in the company of up and coming legends", which was so vaguely addressed that I couldn't tell if she meant us or herself or someone else in the crowd. She departed not long after, though, so we at least didn't have to endure her oblique staring for much longer.
Other than the shocking surprise of one of the courses including live snakes (I may have jumped and shrieked a little and tried to put some distance between myself and the table - and not for the reasons most would think - which got a good laugh out of some of the crowd), the rest of the night was thankfully rather uneventful. Felix informed me that the balding man had given him some information - the rumors we'd heard about Aberian Arvanxi throwing out guests for trying to get into his attic were true, but the justification of "he has a deformed son he hides up there" were rubbish as we knew well enough the Mayor was both unmarried and had no living kin. He'd also heard something about a planar pocket tied to the manor known as the Nyxxian Knot - a disturbing prospect given what I'd learned from the admiral, doubly so when Felix added that it was surmised to be hidden within a mirror, heavily guarded, and might have some tie to the shadow-beasts that plagued Westcrown's nights. I informed him a summarized version of what I'd learned from the admiral, keeping the pit fiend portion unspoken.
When the final course was served, the party began to devolve into an orgy, and we took the opportunity to make our exit, much to Anzara's relief. (Thankfully Calsenica was far too enthralled by the festivities, or she might have followed us out... not sure how we would have handled that, to be completely honest.) We ducked into an empty adjoining room, where I summarized for the group the information we'd gathered, this time revealing the full details of the imprisoned fiend, and Felix revealed he'd picked Aberian Arvanxi's pocket and now had a key that unlocked most of the manor, including a small chest full of the rich red Jeggarian wine served with the first course. Normally I'd be heavily averse to theft, I do work for the local watch sometimes and have made a living out of dealing with thieves, but if Aberian was dealing with fiends I really didn't have much remorse for anything of his that might go missing, and let Felix have free rein with his keys to snoop about the castle before we tried to find our way up to the attic.
It was a good thing we did, too. He eventually found his way into the majordomo Crosael's room, found several more keys, and a magic-infused page among a stack of documents and bad poetry. After Anzara identified it as secret page and Felix provided the password - some poet I can't remember the name of - it was revealed to be documentation regarding a servant girl named Sian, who had bypassed most of the hiring procedures and been installed as a senior member of the staff above much more long-standing employees. Felix reported that Sian was the name of a servant girl that Crosael suspected of stealing a carved bust; I couldn't figure why someone who had gone to such efforts - including magical documentation - to gain the position she'd gotten, only to steal a single piece of art; there had to be more.
By this point Anzara was getting antsy for a fight, and eagerly pointed out that while the three of us might be able to make passable attempts at stealth, she very much would not, and while the guests might all be drunk mindless, the staff also was very much not. We put the raiding on hold - with a promise to Felix to resume after Anzara had gotten the chance to see some combat - and made our way up the stairs to the next floor, then to the attic after rather minimal searching.
The attic was cluttered with boxes and crates and bags and Aspects know what else, and while our search came up with interesting things - a case full of old documents from Arvanxi and his predecessors, a room with shackles bolted to the wall, two of which Anzara took and gave one to me to replace the set she'd left with Thesing at Vizio's, and other things we didn't know the purpose of and lacked the time to really investigate thoroughly. We did, however, also discover a padlocked door - which Felix's keys easily bypassed - and in the room beyond, a hidden door leading to a small room dominated by a massive surface that resembled reflective metal. We quickly determined that this was likely the entrance to the Nyxxian Knot, and after tossing things at it failed to produce any resuls, Felix informed Anzara that there would be guardians or monsters inside for her to fight. Eagerly she tried to feel around for a handle or some other means of opening the gateway, and instead was sucked away inside. We three remaining were momentarily surprised, but with the entrance method revealed it was obvious what to do next; I gave Felix a gentle push into the entrance, then walked in behind him myself, with Martin on my heels.
The first thing I did inside the Nyxxian Knot was make sure we could get out the way we came in. Thankfully whoever set up this mad place - for insanity was the only way to explain what we would be seeing shortly - at least believed in the simplicity of convenience, and the door behind us functioned in exactly the same manner as the mirrors in the attic, dropping me back into that little hidden room then bringing be again into the corridor where my companions were waiting, examining the body of a dead elf. I was promptly handed a pile of scrolls and a magical pearl, which Anzara informed me would allow me to restore a small portion of my magical energy once per day. Felix confiscated the dead man's magical haversack, but in the process grabbed a scrap piece of parchment covered with codes or passwords. Some examination later identified the paper as no simple discarded note or used scroll, but rather the anchor to a Runecurse, a fiendish trap that would call down the wrath of a specific fiend onto its owner after a certain time, giving him or her the opportunity to pass the curse on to another - willing, but perhaps not aware of its nature - victim. Hopefully we'll find one in here.
Beyond the corridor entrance, we found a large library-like room lined with bookshelves. This would have been worth investigating for some time if we hadn't found it already occupied - three large, fiendish dog-like creatures covered in porcupine-like quills made their presence known very quickly and proved immensely territorial. Thankfully despite their hostility we were able to put them down fairly swiftly. Felix confiscated the majority of the books - an assortment of things on fiendish binding, torture, and other unpleasant subjects - into the magical bag we'd taken from the dead elf, but I'd noticed one far newer and better-quality book, entitled "Drowned Jabe" and a subtitle I can't recall, and snatched it for later perusal.
Beyond this was where things began, officially, getting strange. We opened the door on the far end of the library and found ourselves on a spiral stairway surrounding what appeared to be a bottomless pit. Anzara kicked some rubble into the abyss, and after vanishing below it suddenly dropped out of the equally-infinite space above, and proceeded to cycle there, dropping into nothingness then dropping out of nothingness, seemingly without end. This was far too entertaining for her, and she spent the next few minutes hunting for more stones and debris to toss into the pit. I on the other hand was more concerned with keeping as far from the edge as the narrow staircases would allow.
Felix and Martin poked their heads into a small adjoining room, and before either could announce what they'd found a pair of Shadows sprung up outside, one attacking the men while the second responded to Anzara's reflexive but unfortunately ineffective claw-swipes. Her follow-up, though, was a blast of healing energy that mended Felix and Martin's wounds - though not the draining effect of the Shadow's touch on Felix - and wilted the undead, allowing me to pick them off with disrupt undead easily. Felix and Martin, logically, began attempting to smash the mirrors, thinking that would put an end to the Shadows, which neither could hurt with their nonmagical weaponry. Unfortunately they weren't quite swift enough and another pair of Shadows appeared; Anzara took matters into her own hands and smashed the second mirror with her mace, weakening the Shadows further - one evaporated on the spot, while I destroyed the second with another ray. At the last she grabbed hold of the glass, tore it by force from the wall, and tossed it into the pit. By this time Martin had managed to destroy the other mirror as well, and proceeded to stomp the pieces into uselessness while we watched Anzara's latest throw make its ever-accelerating cycle.
We wisely chose to abandon the room after that, leaving by the western (I think? Definite direction is a concept alien to the Nyxxian Knot, I think) exit and proceeding along a narrow stairway that I could never quite tell if it was ascending or descending, following Felix at a distance. We noted three more pits similar to the one in the center of the Shadows' room, at points where the stairs turned at right angles, and eventually - like an impossible Penrose Stairway - we found ourselves returning to the very room we'd begun at, despite going up and/or down stairs that should not have been able to operate that way.
Anzara noted a passageway she'd seen across one of the pits, and began making offers to "assist" the rest of us in crossing. Felix turned her down and easily jumped the gap on his own, as did Martin; I on the other hand wasn't given much choice when she snatched my arm and clothing and hurled me across, then jumped over herself not far behind, with only a pause to remove her armor.
Once across, we found ourselves in a narrow hall flanked by several doors - clearly a residential area or, more likely, a prison. That latter was confirmed after Anzara announced (vaguely) that a dimensional lock was on the first door, and when Felix opened it there was a fiend inside - a creature later identified as a bearded devil. It rambled for some time about someone named Veed - Westcrown's prior mayor, I later learned - then when Felix announced he hadn't sent us the devil took a swing at him with its polearm, only to catch it on the doorframe and drop it out of its reach, bound as it was to the room. I snatched up the weapon and retreated, only to find some new voice prompting questions and demands in my mind, particularly a muddied urge to make supplications to the Blood Witch. I must've gotten lost in conversation with the voice for some time before Anzara snatched the weapon out of my hand and the voice with it, revealing the source the voice had been adamant (or simply too insane) about refusing to answer when I'd asked.
Since it was clearly malevolent and troublesome and none of us were trained in the use of glaives anyway (except perhaps Martin, who was too small to use the weapon properly), she attempted to stash it away in Felix's haversack. He however was uninterested in letting her do so, and demanded several times that she give it to him if she wanted it stored; Anzara was equally stubborn about not letting anyone else handle the intelligent object. The argument went on for several minutes before, at last, Anzara tossed it into the pit behind us, where it began to cycle through the air like the stones and rubble and mirrors before it. Felix grumbled about her cutting off our exit route with a rapidly-accelerating flying blade, but then resignedly turned to examine the other rooms. Most were empty or occupied only by a dead body. The rear corridors led to one-way observation windows, but held nothing more of interest. Anzara also gave me a thorough chiding for not knowing about the mechanics of magic - nevermind that I'm a sorceress, my power is innate, I don't have to understand it for it to happen, it just does - and strongarmed me into agreeing (though admittedly not completely reluctantly) on her giving me some rudimentary instruction on the basics of magical theory after we finished here.
Following the second observation corridor led us to another door, which led to another corridor, which led to a large room with a murky pool in its center. Felix and I moved along the wall as far from the water's edge as we could, but Anzara rather stepped up to get a better look, prompting four undead - water ghouls, I forget the official term - to spring out of the water. I blasted the first three with a blast of lightning turned cold, while the fourth charged toward Anzara only for her to push it back into the water as it tried to ascend. Surprisingly it spoke, announcing itself to be named Drowned Jabe and scorning Anzara for taunting it. Felix attempted to take a shot at it, but the bolt missed, ricocheted off the wall, and caught him in the arm, causing him to drop the very weapon he'd fired it with. I might have made mention of having the dead thing's book, but I was a bit too agape at Felix's display to do much else at the time, and Martin cut the last ghoul down before anyone else had a chance to intervene. We noted there was some treasure at the bottom of the pool, and after a few attempts to fish it out with what we had on hand - Felix with ropes, me with a crowbar - Anzara finally just dove in and brought up the remnants by hand, enduring being soaking wet for the rest of the trip.
At the far end of the ghouls' pool was another doorway, this one leading into a slick, winding tunnel. Felix and Martin crept along carefully ahead, but Anzara threw caution to the wind and slid the whole way down with some acrobatic talent I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen her start off and then found her uninjured at the bottom. As for myself... well, gymnastics has never been a specialty of mine, and other than wet cobblestone during or after a heavy rain this isn't something I've dealt with on a regular basis. So... after the first slip and fall, I improvised, and assumed a form that was simply too large to slide down the tunnel freely. After all, everyone else was ahead of me and the passageway was far from straight, so the chance I'd be seen was near minimal. And as soon as I saw light coming from the end of the passage I resumed my normal shape, well before catching up to the others. Other than my grumbling about the delay, I think no one was much the wiser. I hope.
Regardless, we were presented with yet another doorway followed by a fork - a passage off to the right, notable for the strange singing that echoed from beyond what we could see, and a straightway forward. Felix, again in the lead, decided to ignore the singing for now, and the rest of us followed him up a stairway to a door marked by a sign in Infernal which he never did translate for the rest of us. Inside was a small room that appeared to have once been a meeting hall but now was in a state of long disarray and disuse.
We were about to move on when an invisible figure's voice spoke up, announcing that we were in need of "curing" from our "fears" and that all we needed to do was go through the four doors at the room's corners to "face our fears" and overcome them. We were puzzled and, in Anzara's case, irritated for a short while before Felix finally led us through one door, which promptly dumped us into a nest of stirges. We smashed the giant mosquitoes easily, and the final one we killed morphed into a large gem after death. Felix, seeing what was basically free money being presented, eagerly led us back to the center room to pick another door. He did eventually translate the markings on these doors at least - the one leading to the stirges had been "fear of blood", and the others were "fear of spiders", "fear of snakes", "fear of fire", and "exit", though the last the invisible voice chided us was "only for people who have been cured!".
The group gave me a ribbing for the events of the party before Felix led us into the snake chamber, with Anzara at the rear still grumbling. (For the life of me I don't know if I'll ever understand her - but I'll get to that later.) I'll admit, I can be plenty stubborn on my own as well. I walked right into the middle of the group of snakes and picked one up, and it seemed content to just rest in my arms while we killed the rest of its brethren. Felix then inquired if we had to kill that one too to get the gem, moments before it simply coughed it up. Unsure what to do with the snake now and not exactly feeling good about the prospect of just snapping its neck, I stuck it in my bag to wait there in safety, along with the gem. We headed back into the halls, then made to go straight toward the spider chamber before Anzara finally blew up.
She expressed a frustration with the rest of us acting without asking for her input, making decisions and taking off without her approval or say-so.... Frankly, I don't know what she wants. When we were trying to get through the play, it seemed as if she was only interested in mischief and giving anyone she could a hard time. Once we'd gotten through that and to the party, she was bored until the prospect of fighting something came up. Now that we have the opportunity to fight - though admittedly the things in the "tests" weren't exceptionally challenging - she was annoyed that we didn't ask her first. (Nevermind that we really never ask anyone anything; we kind of just speak up and go with whoever gets the most interest, or let the visible expert lead - usually Felix - and follow wherever he goes.) We fought our way through a small handful of very large spiders, got a gem for Martin, and headed back to the central chamber where Anzara was waiting.
Felix was quick to inquire about why she was angry and attempt to remedy the situation, offering to allow her to choose our next destination. I let the two of them argue it out, and Martin appeared to do likewise.
And I get the feeling there's still a lot of this place yet to explore.
Felix made as if to exit the testing chamber, finally conceding to just let Anzara do whatever she wished and presuming since she wanted to leave she'd follow or head back the way we came. In true contrary style, she instead barged straight into the final room, where a small group of fire elementals awaited us, easily vanquished; Anzara, the only one of us to not yet have a gem, claimed the fire-orange pearl that remained behind when the last evaporated. We then attempted to exit the area but the voice - which now revealed itself as a small devil or imp - popped out of hiding to demand the gems as proof of our success in "curing ourselves of our insanities". Anzara, still in a rebellious mood, swallowed hers; the imp seemed irritated but decided that having the gems was proof enough, and offered to answer six questions, which Anzara and Felix soon determined was due to her being able to cast commune. We inquired first about the thing we'd been sent to find, spending two questions to learn about the object itself - something called the Crux, which all she would explain about it was that it was a "puzzle box", and that it was guarded by The Outcast King, who "used to be a bearded devil but he's different now" thanks to former Mayor Veed. We'd seen a bearded devil, if our instinct was correct, in that warded prison and stolen its glaive; the prospect of fighting one didn't appeal to me at the time and Felix seemed to think likewise, but Anzara, predictably, was all to eager to take out her frustrations on devils, which we quickly learned she had a particular disliking for.
Felix and I couldn't think of any more questions for a while, and Martin was uninterested, so Anzara began plying away our remaining questions on relatively pointless inquiries. However, just before she spent our last question I did think of one, and asked the imp what the pit fiend imprisoned below the manor was doing to cause the mishaps and illusions. She calmly explained that its prison was breaking and that it was trying to free itself. This caused me more worry than anyone else in the group - Anzara seemed ever the more eager to pick a fight with this thing, probably far more powerful than the bearded devil we'd been promised, and Felix seemed bored and simply claimed he planned not to be in the vicinity when the thing burst its bonds.
After some further debate, and recalling one of the imp's answers - that the Knot had two exits, one back the way we came (our entrance, I presumed) and one ahead - we decided to forge deeper into the maze, and found ourselves in another slick, winding tunnel. Felix was at first in the lead, but when he found the corridor opened into a room filled with liquid filth he retreated, allowing Anzara to enter the area first, wading out into the muck to engage the quartet of water elementals that had risen out of the mire to attack at our approach. Felix even flung himself back into my arms when Anzara attempted to splash him. The elementals were slain with little difficulty, mostly by Martin and Anzara wading out to engage directly while I flung spells from the tunnel mouth and Felix occasionally fired his crossbow over my shoulder. In the center of the room we found a raised island, but Anzara discovered there a black metallic unholy symbol depicting a stack of coins - the emblem of the Hoard Lord Karloth, Avatar of Greed, we soon learned. It also reacted to detect magic. We both decided to simply leave it there. No sense messing with magical divine emblems in a physics-defying place constructed by a probably-mad Nyxxian devotee.
Beyond the interior swamp, we found a circular room bordered by another set of impossible Penrose Stairs, with another endless-looking pit in its center, and four doorways scattered about the walls around it. Anzara chose this moment to again become difficult, and adamantly decided she was going to split up from the rest of us regardless of where we went, first acting on the pretense of needing to be on the opposite side of the chamber to "balance the room", then finally just giving up and admitting she was, yet again, bored and wandering off. We quickly decided to just let her dig her on grave at this point, and began trying to navigate the series of seemingly-identical chambers one after another.
We eventually found a chamber that branched back toward the singing hallway we'd encountered earlier and passed. Following the sound led us to another deep pit, but this one had red light glowing out of its depths and a ball of flailing chains dangling above it, with the corpse of a slaughtered Kyton hanging in their grip. It lashed blindly at Felix but missed, and we chose to retreat, assured the thing wouldn't burst loose of its foundations and pursue us through the Knot. When we came back in we found ourselves - once again - shunted to a new chamber, and saw Anzara across the room arguing with an even more bizarre-looking Tiefling woman, probably the second Tiefling the imp had offhandedly mentioned as part of our bizarre conversation.
Felix tried to make some inquiries of the stranger, who had adamantly refused Anzara's offer of sharing a drink and seemed equally unlikely to share information with us beyond that she too had come here for the Crux. Felix tried to offer her an alliance of some sort but she seemed disinterested; he then offered to seal the deal by providing her a map of the Knot. She seemed distrustful but agreed to have a look at it... and Felix handed her the Runecurse he'd picked up off the dead man at the beginning of the maze. It seemed that the Tiefling woman was familiar with the nature of the page, as she immediately flew into a frenzy and slashed at Felix, but the rest of us didn't have a chance to react - other than Felix fleeing - when an enormous skeletal devil appeared out of the air next to her and skull-bashed the assassin to the ground. Anzara, summoned back by my shout that a fight had begun when the Tiefling lunged at Felix, managed to take a swipe at the devil and land a solid blow, but it ignored her and snatched up the Tiefling woman before teleporting away, vanishing from sight, leaving the three of us confused and Anzara raving about the loss of a combat opportunity against a truly-challenging foe.
She sulked for a while as we attempted to navigate through the shifting chambers, but we did eventually stumble upon the exit and find our way into a nearby set of corridors - including an unfinished stairwell leading up into a dead end - eventually culminating in a storage chamber guarded by a Mummy. She and Martin charged the thing while Felix crept in and stabbed it in the back after the others engaged, which caused the chamber it was in to collapse, burying it in rubble while my compatriots retreated back to the entrance to evade the fall. With the monstrosity pinned down, we finished it off without difficulty, and managed to pull some minor treasures from the debris.
We backtracked a short distance to a fork then proceeded further, leading to a four-way intersection chamber. The entrance to our left led back into the circular chamber maze and we quickly decided against investigating that way again; the door to the right led to a room with three doors in it - one marked with a book, one with a glaive, and one with a circular disk bearing emblematic coins. It didn't take us long to identify them as the ghoul book, the talking glaive, and the unholy symbol respectively; in turn I, being the only one still carrying one of the items, discerned that I could open the door back into my apartment so long as I held it, thus revealing the second exit mentioned by the imp. Assured of our easy departure nearby (though Felix expressed some distaste at not being able to go back and raid the manor as planned) we proceeded forward through the next doorway into the final chamber.
The Outcast King awaited us, a horrid green monstrosity, all teeth and tentacles, part fiend and part otyugh, all disgusting and wretched, with nothing but the filth and muck in the room (much like and yet somehow even worse to my sense of smell than the room with the mire elementals) and a trio of Lemures for company. Felix and Martin immediately moved to engage, while Anzara enlarged herself before moving in for the kill and I laid down a wall of shadow and a rimed-frost sky bolt to hold the fiends in place and obstruct their assault. Anzara and Martin, with the devils unable to flee or defend themselves properly, finished off the Outcast King without difficulty, and the four of us picked off the remaining Lemures at our leisure.
Navigating the filth was worth it in the end: the Outcast King's chamber had - at the farther, less filth-encrusted end - several chests packed with coins, ledgers, books, and a few magical objects and weapons, as well as the King himself carrying two magical swords and, most importantly amidst all the treasure, the Olympian Crux: a twelve-sided cubish thing that looked somehow wrong no matter what angle you observed it at. We gathered up the lot as we could and carried it into the door room over a couple of trips, then used the conveniently-provided exit to return to the normal, logical world with our treasures via my abode.
In time we'll need to find a way to open the Crux and discern what exactly it holds that Ailyn Bluehood thinks we can use to get into Delvehaven, but for the time being I think we've all earned at least a few days off.
End Case Two: The Sixfold Trial.
CASE THREE: WHAT LIES IN DUST
The week or so we took off after getting the hells out of Arvanxi's manor was, at least on my part, spent in erratic study with Anzara, learning the basics and fundamentals of magical theory and the how and why behind what I and she can do. Armed with that knowledge, though I'm admittedly still quite lacking on the subject, when we reconvened at Mac's a few days later to discuss the Crux I had a bit better comprehension of what I was looking at and how it worked. Unfortunately that alone wasn't enough to figure out how to open it, and none of my companions had any better leads.
Perhaps I should describe the object in greater detail before moving on. The Olympian Crux, despite its name, was clearly designed by someone either not Olympian themselves, or with a fondness for foreign art; the object's twelve sides, which despite their universal equality of size still had an awkward out-of-place appearance, were decorated with animal emblems with fiendish features. The pattern of the twelve was identified by Felix as associated with the calendar and astrology of Senkaku, with each animal associated with an elemental affinity - earth, fire, air, water, metal, or wood - and an ethical one - a complex light/darkness, aggressive/passive, proactive/reactive system that was more than simple "good or evil" and that we didn't go into deep discussion about so I didn't really understand the lot of it. Whenever one of the sides was pressed, it glowed slightly - either red or blue. If you managed upon a proper pattern, blue lights would remain; however the appearance of a red light seemed to "reset" the magical mechanism, or otherwise signify a mistake.
We must've spent a good hour poking and prodding at that thing, guessing combinations, patterns, or themes before finally stumbling onto the proper order; when we did however, the entire thing popped open, disgorging several contents that if it wasn't for the obvious magical and extradimensional nature of the Crux simply would not have fit inside. Several pieces of parchment, some wands and scrolls, a silver box containing candles, and most of all a screaming, screeching severed head of an Erinyes. Felix and Anzara managed to get her, after several minutes of being the center of attention in the thankfully-sparsely-populated tavern (though not unpopulated - which I'll expand on later), calmed down enough to have a reasonable conversation with her in that wretched devil-tongue the two of them have picked up from gods-know-where; thankfully somewhere along the way she reverted to using Common so Martin and I could follow along. She identified herself as Khazrae, claimed she didn't know where the rest of her body was, and that it had been Mayor Veed (or rather Vheed, as I soon learned) who had locked her in the Crux in the first place, after she'd been a little too public with some of his closely-guarded secrets. She rambled on for some time, lapsing into curses - curses against Vheed, curses against some devilish master, curses against life and the world in general - until threatened or calmed by Felix and/or Anzara, sometimes with threats of being "put back in the box" which seemed to work best.
I mentioned that we weren't quite alone at Mac's; in addition to Mac and Lyra, of course, there was also a hooded figure sitting at one of the tables, which when pointed out to the rest of us by Felix was revealed to be a strange-looking, almost canine humanoid, whose ears and muzzle weren't quite hidden by his hood and whose furred, paw-like hands weren't concealed at all. (Though compared to Anzara, this was fairly tame as far as appearances go....) Before we could take the notice of the fellow to keep things quieter, Anzara decided to introduce the group to him by throwing Khazrae onto his table, sending his food and drink flying and setting the screaming devil's head to riot again. Felix was swift to recover her and apologize to the stranger, then threaten/persuade Khazrae into quiet again, after which he - in lower tones - revealed to the ex-Erinyes that we were looking for information regarding Delvehaven. The old museum was also a part-time thieves guild, according to her recollection, and Vheed had apparently stayed there with her for a time; if we could get her inside, she said, she could tell us a bit about what awaited us. Unfortunately, she could do nothing about getting us into Delvehaven.
For that, however, we found a bit of further information searching the paperwork that had come out of the Crux with her. In addition to the wands and scrolls (which Anzara and I split), there were two documents - a letter addressed to Vheed and a long, rambling poem with several notes in the margins made by the same handwriting. The letter was in regard to a group of men called The Hunters, headquartered in Delvehaven, named Dontalus Bisby, Ilnerik Sivanshin, and Loremaster Liriam. Bisby and Sivanshin were described as missing, with Bisby presumed dead due to being sealed within Delvehaven's vaults and Sivanshin fled to Haven. Liriam likewise was theorized to be trapped within the museum, but more importantly he was also presumed to be the author of the attached poem, "Cugny's Wedding".
I have never seen before a greater rambling piece of dreck in my entire life. I'm no expert on poetry, but I can tell something is terrible when I read it. There's no meter, there's no flow, what rhyme there is is strained and painful. You know what, no, I'll just reproduce it here and let you try to make sense of it.
Event of the Century!
The man himself was middle
Aged – yet all agreed he could Wave
Goodbye to older aches and
Pains—for with her he would be
Young again! For her little Door
Remained locked—untouched by man
(or even by a maid’s hand)
…As far as any knew – but lies
have ways of coming out when
hidden by the flaws of men.
And so he arrived that day with
Bells on, in his finest dress
Clothes…he was, in fact a mess!
You see, the bride who waited in
The church before him frightened
Him! All of eighteen she was--
Too fair for an old man! She’d Cut
And run before he could glimpse
Her lithe form out of that dress!
He understood: she’s just a lass—
He understood, but loved her
For more than what he’d caress.
He knew where she was coming From
But still, he thought he’d do well.
It’s true, he had a faint smell
Of mothballs, and there was a Wart
On his nose, but he’d comport
Himself with dignity—some,
At least! He stood for minutes—three—
And entered the church, head high!
His beloved met his eye--
He saw her softly whisper ‘Hun
I think it’s time!’ He could see
An eager, excited sigh!
All at once, he felt that old dred
Melt away! The crowd saw old
Cugney step up a new man!
He saw his life as food sans salt
Sans her, his life seemed so cold…
If he lost her, twas HIS fault.
There was no doubt his palms were soaked
As were his clothes with nerve’s sweat.
The old man felt his cheeks wet
With tears—there were no more cold feet
For he had the love of sweet
Marie, who would HIS wife be.
Poor Cugney saw no tear there, Nor
The girl behind him, misty
Eyed. The sigh he thought eager
Instead bore nerves. But looking east
The sun had risen--meager
Moments remained. Twas time to
do or die! For none there knew the
Lass who was her lady love
Was a witch of quite some skill.
They had committed to their path
The witch produced the small dove
And with whispered words caused ill.
In seconds short the charm did find
His heart, and caused it to bind
His love to his dying day
To the dove upon her finger
To which his eyes did then stray.
One would think that the story
Would end here—however it must
Continue: see, for the lass
Was caught just a smidge—her lust
Set on Cugney, who’d rather pass.
Thus we set a four-side stage:
Youth, and Dove, and Witch, and Age.
The witch—her name was Anne—saw Grand
Plans dissolve to Chaos then!
She loved girl and girl loved man
And man loved bird! Erastil’s Lodge
Still sat, as yet unaware
That things had fast grown quite odd.
The fair bride’s eyes were filled with light
But for Anne she held no sight…
Only Cugney drew her lust.
Cug cared for dove, as now he must.
Without ado or fanfare
The wedding words took to air.
What followed then was quite the show
Westcrown’s never seen its like!
“First off, Marie! Your oath please?”
The cleric asked, and straight off the
bride did swear her life to “He
who stands beside me, that tease,
Let’s head to our bed straight away:
I cannot wait! Please don’t stray!”
The old priest smiled at eager
Youth! He knew that soon she would Delve
Myst’ries bound to marriage beds.
He blessed her oath and turned then…
“I too in turn will swear to hav
and hold this bird beside me!”
Silence reigned supreme just then:
Cugney swore before the heaven’s
His eternal marriage vow.
The crowd—in shock—did not see
The witch step forward to give an oath!
“In that case, take me, Marie!
I pledge marriage to all three!
I’ll take them all—and with a will
That I might have Marie still
Else I’ll live in misery.”
Old Cugney’s wedding worked because
Lovers stepped up without pause.
Without commitment, you see
Misery’s lot was bound to the
Three. Girl, Girl, old man, and dove
Did pledge bed and life today
And love did mend what would be fray.
Obviously we couldn't make heads or tails of it, even with the aid of the notations and footnotes provided by Vheed's messenger. Still, it was obvious there was some sort of hint to be found, and Anzara - despite or perhaps because of its utter wretchedness - loved it and began singing the painful thing almost immediately after it was passed her way.
We bantered and bickered and guessed and theorized for almost another hour before giving up, packing up what of the Crux's contents hadn't been divided among the group (including, with much reluctance, Khazrae), and decided to go pursue leads elsewhere rather than continue making a spectacle of ourselves in the tavern. Felix suggested we head to Delvehaven and have a look there, but that we travel separately; Martin and I departed first, Anzara not long behind us, and I believe Felix last, though he stayed behind a bit... presumably to have a talk with the unfortunate fellow who'd gotten a table full of devil's head.
Martin and I made a sidetrack on our way to Delvehaven by first heading back to the safehouse, hoping we might run into miss Bluehood there and get her input before heading off. As luck would have it Ailyn was at the abandoned temple, but she didn't have much aid to provide us; she was too distracted by the vanishing of her friend Vahnwynne, the vampire hunter, a few days prior. Apparently she'd stumbled onto a lead and run off on another chase, something she was prone to doing, but the fact that Ailyn hadn't seen her since had the informant somewhat worried. She asked us, in exchange for seeing if she could make heads or tails of "Cugny's Wedding", to look into where she might have gone; she recommended a place called the Devildrome, where she said Vahnwynne was prone to spending her off-days, though she didn't provide directions before meandering off into the streets. With that attempt a bust, Martin and I gave up on looking for further pursuits and headed to Delvehaven to rendezvous with the others as instructed.
Felix arrived shortly after we did, and inquired if we'd managed to find an entrance or learn anything in the process; he also mentioned that he'd had a talk with the wolf-man from Mac's and discovered we had a potential ally or at least cooperative acquaintance in the stranger, who soon revealed himself to have followed Felix to the location. After chiding the three of us about our utter lack of stealth and information decorum (loud talking and arguing, screaming heads, and Felix accidentally almost shooting himself in the foot, for starters), he introduced himself as Jager - an Orcish word I believe, which translates as "hunter". An odd name for an odd fellow, I suppose, though I've little room to talk myself.
We four waited a short time - about another half-hour - for Anzara to show up before deciding she'd gotten lost or distracted and set back for Mac's to look for her. She was gone, predictably, when we got there; however, my keen senses were able to pick up her scent-trail as fairly fresh and - aided by the lingering remnants of her scent on the manacles she'd bought to replace the ones she'd left with Baron Von Head-In-Pants - began a meandering pursuit of her through the winding streets and erratic trail she'd left in her wake, dragging Felix along with me, Martin and Jager following at a distance. There were several dead-ends, complete loops, and otherwise redundant paths along the way, and after a while I actually got fairly good at noting which fork would just lead me back to where I'd begun and which was the more recent trail, cutting some time off the pursuit. I was distracted once by sight of movement in an alley as we passed, but investigation found just a stray cat; my suspicions were not mollified by this discovery, in that I swore I'd seen more, but at the time I didn't have the opportunity to investigate further for fear of losing the trail.
If Fate has a predictable streak, that winding path's final destination was all I'd need to prove it - Anzara had, apparently, found her way to none other than the Devildrome, which turned out to be a semi-illegal underground fighting ring that skirted the Hellknights' wrath by restricting the fights to summoned monster participants only. As soon as we entered, we were recognized by the proprietor - a flashily dressed man by the name of Rance Lucca. He recognized Felix immediately from his role as Larazod, and informed us that our tiefling was in the stands, having entered earlier; he even offered to waive the entrance fee for us if we'd come see him afterward and help him with a little 'problem'. Seeming agreeable, we acceded, and headed in... only to find Anzara having fallen asleep in the bleachers. After several attempts to rouse her we finally did get her to wake, only to hear her lamenting that the summoned-creature battles below were boring and predictable and she'd lost interest shortly after arriving. A quick watching of a few rounds proved her to be actually quite correct - the performance was quick and over quite soon, and the reigning champion, a muscular, leather-clad man who looked more warrior than wizard named Thrax, quickly overwhelmed his opponent's forces with a small army of tiny oozish lemures.
We waited out the rest of the day, watching round after round of Thrax's repetitive tactic, with Anzara eventually falling back asleep; after the crowd dispersed some, Martin, Felix, and I went to talk with Lucca, leaving Anzara sleeping and Jager doing gods-know-what back in the now-empty seats. Lucca explained his problem concisely: Thrax was too good, the Devildrome fights had gotten boring, and it was making keeping the odds variable on the betting over the competition very difficult for him to operate. He wanted to throw a wrench into the situation by putting Thrax up against someone he was confident could outdo the conjurer, and having life drop the Sixfold Players at his doorstep couldn't be a better chance. Before we could argue that none of us was a particularly-proficient summoner, however, Lucca explained that there was precedent for someone facing the summons directly - by sending in a "Champion", one of us could directly face Thrax's minions (aided by magic, potions, equipment, or tactical advice from the rest, though the Champion would still have to fight alone), which he admitted the crowd would be eager to see, both because it was rare (and possibly illegal) and because of our fame due to the play. In exchange, he offered us not just a share of the winnings (for, given Thrax's immense favor among the crowd and the wagers, would be quite grand if we were to succeed) but also information regarding Vahnwynne - who he'd confirmed was a regular - and her whereabouts, last he'd seen.
Inspired, I ran back out into the bleachers, roused Anzara with an inquiry of "Do you want to kill something?", and led her back to Lucca to introduce as our Champion. Though she initially balked, she did eventually agree to the prospect, and we departed.
The group ended up spending the night with the five of us crammed into my apartment - which was an adventure in and of itself, let me tell you - then returning to the Devildrome the following day. Lucca introduced us eagerly, then allowed Anzara to take the stage while I provided some supportive magic and Felix passed up a few potions. Felix, by the way, had placed a wager on our behalf himself - predictable but certainly welcome profit, I just hope he's willing to share some of the resulting gain with the group.
Thrax began with his usual volley of lemures and more lemures, while Anzara opened with enlarging herself and laying into the creatures with her claws and, eventually, picking them up and beating them with one another. As the waves drew on and more and more devils fell before the cleric's claws, Thrax became further and further enraged; Anzara only intensified this by, when the last spell was cast and all but one of its creations dispatched, picking up the last lemure and taking it back to its master. Infuriated, he launched a stinking cloud at the rest of us, prompting us to scatter, and initiating a fight that violated nearly every rule Lucca had warned us about. The crowd of course went berserk for it, but it was somewhat distracting at the time when he was attempting to kill us, not just with magic but also running up and smashing at us with his quarterstaff. Thankfully we, after several tense moments, were able to incapacitate him and, while the rest of the group was approached by the host to proclaim their triumph, I threw the shackles I'd used to trace Anzara and find the Devildrome in the first place onto the unconscious wizard. The crowd seemed far less enthused by our victory - likely due to their immense betting on Thrax's behalf - but Lucca himself couldn't have looked more pleased as he presented us with a trophy.
He then informed us that we should wait here while the crowd dispersed and Thrax was taken care of, and once we again had the building to ourselves he would elucidate on the splitting of the profits as well as the information we sought.
We received our coin from Lucca as he escorted us to the office at the rear of the Devildrome, along with presenting Felix with his take of the betting pool and Anzara with her trophy cup, which she proceeded to fill with whatever alcoholic substance she had on her person and grip the improvised goblet in her tail, taking occasional sips as we conversed with the bookmaker.
Lucca informed us again, after being refreshed of memory of her appearance, that he was familiar with Vahnwynne and that she was a regular at the competitions. She'd been at the Devildrome some days past, stayed to watch some fights, and then departed west; he'd last seen her approaching an old pawn shop that had once been run by member of the church of Karloth, the Avatar of Greed; while the prices could be steep, Lucca claimed, you always got fair value for what you brought, and business was usually good. However, I (with a little help from a certain coin) and Felix were able to recall that while the Karlothites held a fair share of power in the underbelly of the city, they had a long-going rivalry with the church if Irshya, harpy goddess of Envy. When Lucca mentioned that the shop had been ransacked and taken over by someone and the Karlothites scattered, it wasn't hard to guess who was at fault, especially when he mentioned that the shattered glass had been decorated (or perhaps strewn would be a better word) with stray feathers. Given a lead, we departed to investigate, urging along Anzara with promises of more violence.
Arriving at the old storefront didn't take long, and despite the shattered glass and poor lighting inside we could make out two figures moving about suspiciously. Thankfully they didn't take notice of us until Anzara and Martin barged in, causing the (surprisingly still functional) bell above the door to ring and alerting the guards to our presence. Jager followed shortly after and Felix entered through the broken window while I stayed outside and threw spells through the aperture, while the two cloaked women on guard shouted for reinforcements and the sound of shuffling furniture echoed up from below our feet, alerting us to something being moved around in the basement.
Taking care of the four attackers didn't take us long, and we managed to take two of them alive; Anzara started trying to give one a lecture of conversion on the spot, while Felix took a potion of invisibility and slipped down the stairs and I bound the other unconscious captive. He returned shortly after, though without dismissing the spell, and informed us that there were four people at least below, one of whom looked like another defender like the four we'd slain, one looked like a priestess of Irshya, and he couldn't get a good look at the other two. Excited by the prospect of more fighting, Anzara clobbered her would-be convert back into unconsciousness and leaped to the stairs, sliding noisily down the railing with a whoop and crashing into the basement below. Felix, still invisible, had run ahead to get into position, and Martin and Jaeger and I were shortly behind.
There was indeed a priestess below, but while she prepared her spells, Jager tried to take potshots at her from afar, and Anzara and Martin dueled with the other warrior, I cast her into a pit, removing her threat from the fight. Felix reappeared at the gap's lip and put a bullet in the woman, but it unfortunately missed anything vital, though we heard her screech of pain regardless. Before she could act further or emerge, though, Anzara vaulted herself into the pit and landed atop her in a flying tackle/dead drop, fifty pounds of full plate around who knows how much of hyperactive tiefling, and the priestess perished in a visceral crunch of steel and bone and gore.
While I dismissed the spell and retrieved Anzara and the dead cleric from the floor and we began sorting through their belongings, Felix moved further into the chamber to examine the two remaining occupants; a call in response to his demand for surrender revealed the pair to be prisoners rather than cultists, and familiar ones at that - Morosino, Janiven's messenger boy, and Ermolos, the apprentice warrior. The two claimed to have come this way by following Vahnwynne, but after the vampire hunter had battled and slain some of the cultists she'd chased off after "a creepy elf guy" and before they could follow the two had been taken captive by their recent captors. Assured of their safety and well-being, we offered to escort them - and our two surviving prisoners - back to the Safehouse.
Upon arriving back at the abandoned temple - after carrying the two unconscious Irshyans across town in a respectable pantomime of drunken staggering, enough to convince any observing hellknights that we were just a group scuttling home after an afternoon at the bars just in time to beat curfew - we found ourselves immediately approached by Arael, who was struck near speechless by the strange display before him. He was even more flabbergasted when I deposited the two unconscious women in a nearby closet and Anzara blockaded it by hanging a quarterstaff through the handholds. We quickly requested Bluehood's presence and the cunning information merchant was not only present but quick to respond, and ever more eager to assault us for having left her with the dretch that was Cugny's Wedding to batter her brain with.
We spent the next half hour assaulting the wretched poem from every angle until at last, thanks to an offhand comment by Ailyn, I picked up on the hidden cipher's pattern. Every third line had eight syllables instead of seven, and the additional final one was a part of a hidden message. In short, it pointed us to the hidden location of the Wave Door, which Ailyn identified as Delvehaven's secret access, somewhere out in the water a distance from Cutlass Cove. It required a passcode in the form of something called the Hunter's Oath to enter; Ailyn revealed this was a small limerick used as code for the Hunters to identify each other incognito, when they were a larger organization before Delvehaven's fall. She provided us with a quick copy of the Oath, as well as some basic directions on how to get to Cutlass Cove.
Now all we need is a boat.
Fenrin are based off the Lupin from 3.5's Dragon Compendium Vol. 1, if that helps.
Pretty much he convinced Felix that he's no friend of the current leadership, and given he's one-upped Felix at the stealth and sleight-of-hand game at every turn thus far, I think Felix gave up on pulling one over on him. And if he's here with us where we can see him, he's not somewhere else. We'll see how that fares.
A note is slipped into the journal, in surprisingly legible handwriting.
What kind of journal is this?! No mention of pining love, who looks better in what, and the usual badly written poetry.
You forgot to mention that I gave boring-wizard-boy a lesson in tactics and tips.
P.S. - You might want to find a better hiding place for your journal, or files, or whatever. The desk drawer was obvious.
Pretty much he convinced Felix that he's no friend of the current leadership, and given he's one-upped Felix at the stealth and sleight-of-hand game at every turn thus far, I think Felix gave up on pulling one over on him. And if he's here with us where we can see him, he's not somewhere else. We'll see how that fares.
Jaeger proclaimed himself a friend who is interested in helping them. Felix is of the opinion that if Jaeger did pose a threat, he wouldn't have made his presence known.
After coming to a decision about what to do regarding the Wave Door, it was already past curfew; thankfully Felix saved me from a slip of the tongue that would have persuaded Anzara to charge out into the night and try to fight shadow-beasts, but instead she decided that now was the time to retrieve the women from the pawn shop/Irshyan cult hideout and see to their conversion, with the aid of repetitive beatings, frequent healing, and alcohol, much to the oft-repeated lament of Arael and bemused apathy of Ailyn Bluehood. Given I had absolutely nothing else to do I decided to be helpful and, as per Arael's request, "get those women out of my closet so I put stuff in the closet that goes in the closet". Unfortunately for the poor unconscious woman (who admittedly my level of pity for was at an all-time low, given only an hour or two ago she'd been among a group trying to kill me and my friends and associates) as I turned away from the closet I happened to glance out the open doorway to the temple's courtyard and saw something that made me drop her in the middle of the floor. I quickly excused myself when I saw Anzara eagerly dragging her over to the other cultist, and managed to evade Felix's inquiries until I got a closer look.
A few of the Returners were out in the courtyard, but the one that had caught my eye was Amaya - who suddenly had gained seven or eight feet of snake tail in place of her legs! This was the first time I'd seen anyone else like myself, in my entire life, and not only were the other Returners in the area able to see her, they weren't reacting at all, and were carrying on conversations as if nothing had happened! I of course had to investigate immediately, and doubled back into the meeting room to look through the window in the door there and listen in on whatever conversations were going on outside. Felix, having gone the other direction after I'd escaped his questions, had gone out through the door I'd spotted Amaya through in the first place, and - seemingly quite shocked himself - he'd approached her directly to inquire as to the nature of her metamorphosis. I couldn't quite overhear their conversation but it was fairly short; before I could get anything further out of it my vigil was interrupted by Yakopulio coming up behind me and asking me to step aside so she could exit, then promptly announcing to everyone once I'd opened the door that I'd been standing there "with her nose pressed on the wall". Thoroughly embarrassed, I made my way out into the courtyard and, after exchanging polite greetings with Tarvi and some of the gentlemen Returners, was soon approached by Felix.
He was quick to re-ask his questions from inside, though he waited a moment while Tarvi gave us some conversational space, but I figured it would be easier to show than to tell. I approached Amaya and, with some nervous reluctance, asked her to explain her nature and the cause of her transformation. She seemed bemused and simply revealed that it was a trait of her species - she wasn't a Yuan-Ti at all, but rather a Senkakuan race known as Naga. I later learned that the Yuan-Ti were aberrant descendents of the Naga, created with some level of magically-altered crossbreeding with Humans. Stunned by the revelation that everything I and my adopted family had assumed about me was wrong, I could only respond by removing my gloves, revealing my scale-laden arms to her and Felix, and explaining how I'd been found as a child after a shipwreck and adopted by my family, who thought I was some sort of Yuan-Ti mutant - a phrase that both amused and irked Amaya, who called it redundant. She did advise I hold my secret outside these walls, where like myself many would not understand the difference between the Senkakuan Naga and their Stromwendi cousins, but encouraged me to not keep my nature hidden while within the safety of the old temple. Felix added his own words of encouragement, and Martin - who had arrived as we were about to depart - seemed only interested in the scales for long enough for me to tell him they weren't a rash or any sort of illness, and that me being apparently serpentine in nature didn't give me a sudden hunger for mouse. (Which Amaya in turn seemed a little irritated about the implications of.) I actually ended up keeping the gloves off for the rest of the night, which felt strangely liberating.
By the time the three of us rejoined Jager and Anzara in the temple auditorium, Anzara and her two "converts" were well into their cups and immensely jovial. The tiefling attempted to preach her dogma to the two of us, with little success, then decided - after having snuck into my desk and read my journal, which I will now be keeping somewhere out of easy access - that I was in desperate need of a love life and that she was going to find me someone that night. Thankfully some quick talking by Felix and a fast deal with Yakopulio ended the night with Anzara and the two (ex?) cultists heading off to the gnome's brothel, where Anzara seemed to be under the impression she was to get a night of roughhouse brawling. I still don't know what actually occurred that night, but in this case I'm willing to accept ignorance as bliss. The rest of us retired shortly after, wanting to get a decent night's rest before making our way to the dreaded Delvehaven on the morning.
We roused the next day and collected ourselves and, noting Anzara's continued absence, made our way to Mac's, which has started to become our default locale for meeting up if nothing specific is arranged; before taking off, however, I spoke with Larko regarding renting a boat by which we could make our way to Cutlass Cove; he happily provided the contact with a loaner and I paid the fare before making my way back to the bar to meet up with my companions. True to form, Anzara had come there sometime prior and fallen asleep in the kitchen. Mac roused her at our request, and she drunkenly prepared some breakfast (despite us not actually ordering anything; it was very good porridge, admittedly, though I was hoping for something more in the meat-and-eggs theme) and declared the day to be her day off. We bantered and bickered for a short bit about who would be piloting the little rented skiff before Anzara finally put actions to words and managed to show us she actually knew enough about boats to not drown us all in the process. That settled, and with the hints from Cugny's Wedding fresh in mind (if only because Anzara started singing it AGAIN) we paid Mac our fare and headed off to the docks.
Arriving at Cutlass Cove just short of noon, we rowed out into the harbor - with Anzara rowing so quickly that I decided to cut the poem's advised paces in half to adjust for her lunging stride - but swiftly found our boat under attack by shadowy things lurking beneath the water's surface. They slapped ineffectually at us as we approached a glimmering disc floating on the water's surface; while Felix and Jager and Martin messed with the shadows, I recited the Hunter's Oath and the glimmer expanded into a five-foot-wide hole in the air. We abandoned the skiff swiftly after a feeble attempt by the shadows to capsize it, jumping into the hole one after the other without hesitation.
Inside we found ourselves in a wide, dark, dusty room that had all the lookings of a dormitory or museum; clearly Delvehaven from within. Felix immediately took note of a nearby locker and deftly disabled the locking mechanism; inside he found a vast store of supplies and magic, along with a message from none other than Loremaster Liriam, the scribe of the Hunters. It warned that Ilnerik, the half-elven Hunter, had stolen half of an artifact call the Aohl - which Liriam called the Totemrix - and that the item's dark magic would swiftly transform him into a vampire if he wasn't already one by the time of the letter's writing. This of course made all the clues in my head click together - Ermolos and Morosino had been captured by the Irshyan cultists while following Vahnwynne chasing an elven man; given her occupation as a vampire hunter it seemed only logical that it must have been Ilnerik himself, returned from wherever he departed when he stole the Totemrix in the first place. The other half, the Morrowfall, was still somewhere in Delvehaven, presumably with whatever remained of the other Hunter, Bisby, who wasn't mentioned at all in Liriam's letter.
After dividing up the supplies - and fearing we would need them - Felix led us further into the museum, first passing into a large display room with the walls covered in paintings and a large stand in the middle of the room, proclaiming that it once held a "Triceratops" slain by Bisby (with no mention of Ilnerik); I inquired as to what such a creature was, and Felix explained it was an extremely large and hostile but herbivorous lizard. The facts that its remains - whether skeletal or taxidermy - were not present and that undead were already afoot in Westcrown were not comforting to me at all. All of the paintings on the walls had been defaced save one, depicting Bisby and Ilnerik standing over the corpse of a slain beast with enormous horns, which Felix identified as the Triceratops; sadly not enough was shown of the beast to get a good mental picture of what it might look like.
The next chamber was a library, and the group of us - even Martin, who I know can't read - flipped through a few of the tomes, hoping for something useful or at least interesting. I found a book about a woman taken captive by a black dragon to serve as a guardian and caretaker for her wyrmlings; for the time I read the book it almost seemed to come alive for me, and when I finally finished it I found I'd been reading the entire thing in dragon-tongue the entire time, a language I couldn't before speak or understand! It seemed the book, empowered by some strange magic, had infused the knowledge of the language directly into my mind somehow. I hope this doesn't cause some sort of unfortunate side effect....
The next chamber was a wide open room with a few low walls and a large cross-shaped aquarium at its center. Standing on the far side of the room was the skeleton of the beast, standing and animate, wrapped in a shroud of shadows; upon taking note of us, it turned immediately toward Felix - who had taken a potion to conceal himself before entering the room ahead of the rest of us - and seemed about to attack; Jager and Anzara both immediately moved to the attack, while Martin held back, guarding us against an attack from behind... or just avoiding the thing. I hurled a pearl of brilliance at it, but the undead-bane spell provoked a strange reaction with the creature's shadowy essence, and I suddenly found myself suddenly in its place, between Anzara and Felix, and the dinosaur now looming over Martin and Jager. The wolf-man retreated, unwilling to rely on his archery at such a close range, while the ratfolk swung a few blows at the creature but was unable to dent its bones with his blade.
I threw another pearl while Felix took a potion and began sneezing; the blast of flame that expelled from his mouth caught us all off guard, even the dinosaur, who jammed its horns into a nearby wall and slipped from its feet to collapse on the floor, pinned by its own weight and unable to counterattack or flee. Seeing it vulnerable, Anzara immediately closed and lashed into the brute with her claws before it could pull itself free and go back on the attack, and between those of us attacking we managed to reduce it back to a pile of bones and dust.
We've barely been in here thirty minutes! What else are we going to run into?
We found nothing of worth or interest in the room itself, but a more determined scan noted there was something inside the vast aquarium in the room's center; when I mentioned this to Anzara, she decided the best solution would be to smash her way through rather than get a boost up and swim down to whatever treasure awaited. Thankfully all of the rest of us were able to flee the area before the water came rushing through, and after the flood subsided some, Anzara walked through the broken glass to retrieve a pile of treasures that had been stashed in the murky water, along with a dead fish that she bid me sneak into Felix's bag.
By this time the men had made their way back to the painting room and gone upstairs; when Anzara and I caught up, Felix was examining a door that he quickly requested Anzara break open. She did so eagerly, rousing the attentions of a water elemental in the room beyond; she and the other three put it down swiftly, while I simply stood back and waited, not wanting to waste a spell on the creature if I didn't have to. Beyond its room was a vast gap crossed by an ancient rope bridge in miserable condition; Felix was able to nimbly cross it without difficulty, and Martin, Jager, and I likewise crossed with only some disturbance, but Anzara was either too heavy or too slow and the bridge snapped under her as she brought up the rear. She instead decided to simply climb down the half on her side, walk across the courtyard below, and climb back up the other half.
Other than more rooms which, according to Felix and Martin, were nearly identical to the guest rooms above the gallery, the only doorway opened into a large gathering or meeting room with a ceiling decorated to resemble the night sky, filled with stars and constellations assembled from small gems and glass enchanted with continual flame. Felix went in first alone, then reported back that a will-o-wisp had taken up residence in the room; learning quickly from Tlav's aid that the bizarre creatures were immune to most magic, I tried one of my spells that I know gets through most magical protections - glitterdust. The sphere of light was smeared in glimmering silver light and bobbed around drunkenly as if blinded, suggesting the spell had had its full effect; it managed to weave its way up to us, but its inability to "see", however that worked, allowed us to dispatch it swiftly and without difficulty. We made our way down into the room below, where we found and Felix collected a bejeweled lantern, then doubled back into the courtyard the bridge had once spanned.
There, Anzara caught sight of what appeared to be a beaten, worn, abandoned teddy bear, and snatched it up, declaring it her own; after a short while of this, and me examining another toy or doll that resembled a small dragon, the bear in her arms suddenly spoke! It demanded to be released, and before any of us could react or argue the dragon suddenly moved as well, bolting off back into the room where we'd fought the skeleton. We gave chase, but it escaped into a privy room and disappeared. The bear eventually revealed it identified itself as "Fluff Gugg", much to the dismay of Anzara who was determined to name it "Teddy", though she did eventually settle for "Fluffy" instead. She refused its many requests and demands to be released, even when it began attacking her with dangerously-sharp retractable claws.
Martin, Felix, and Jager had all gone in different directions to investigate the aquarium room's other exits while I tried to reason with Anzara to unhand the bear and attempt to parley with it. Our conversation was interrupted when Martin came running back into the room proclaiming that he was being chased by very large dogs. The creatures were indeed dogs - shadow mastiffs, to be precise - and they were quite unhappy about our presence. Anzara stuffed Fluff Gugg in her pack then charged the beasts, which I'd just thrown into a pit; like the encounter in the pawn shop, she immediately dove in, landing on one of the dogs and initiating a brawl. The rest of us remained above, aiding the fight with ranged weapons; Martin even resorted to throwing pieces of glass from the broken aquarium. We eventually felled the two beasts, and moved into the hall to examine the area from whence they'd come.
In the hall beyond we found several suits of armor - most of which we claimed - then made our way into the basement area below. Felix scouted ahead into the first room we encountered; there was a noise but he returned moments later looking shaken but unharmed. He bid us follow and continued on into the hallway beyond, but then retreated when he said he smelled salty air and felt the room swaying like the ocean beneath his feet. He mentioned that he believed the rooms to be haunted, and wanted Anzara to come have a look at the area.
Anzara however was busy messing with Fluff Gugg in the hall. When we returned we attempted to negotiate with the little construct, as well as with another like him, a tiny spear-wielding idol that had run up and attempted to stab my leg. Unlike Fluff, this one and the little dragon didn't seem inclined to speak. When I inquired, the bear finally admitted that they had been stationed here by the Hunters' leader Bisby to protect Delvehaven against thieves; I produced Loremaster Liriam's letter and used it as proof that we'd been sent by the Hunters and their allies to secure the safety of the artifact stored in the museum, the Aohl, and reunite its two parts. The bear seemed irritated when I mentioned Ilnerik, only remarking that he was "a thief", but it seemed to buy my story and became somewhat less hostile; this increased twicefold when I mentioned that anything we took would be only because we needed it and that when we were done with it (and by done I meant done with this entire job, Returners, investigation, and all) everything would be returned or replaced. Placated, the bear stopped trying to attack Anzara, but it did take the opportunity to slip from her grip and flee the room.
This unfortunately was to be the beginning of a decline in interactions with the priestess. She grudgingly accompanied Felix and I back to the "salt-air" room, which was a display area for once-bottled ships; there she simply stood and wandered about a bit before declaring the area safe, but didn't share with us what she'd seen or experienced. She refused to speak to either of us for several minutes, other than telling us very bluntly that we did not want to talk to her right now and if we did not leave her space we would swiftly regret it. Not wanting to deal with whatever temper-tantrum she was about to throw, I directed Felix's attention to a hidden passage on the far side of the ship room, which led into winding passageways that eventually emerged into a small bar and recreational room.
There, we found a few more of those bizarre dolls - a girl's dolly, a tiny scarecrow, and the little idol again. The dolly actually deigned to speak, much like Fluff, though all it had to say was that we were "filthy thieves"; apparently Fluff hadn't bothered to spread the news about our earlier agreement. The scarecrow took a poke at me too, which was enough to convince me to leave them be for the moment and move on. I ran into Fluff and the dragon in the next hall, harassing Felix; when I questioned why the dolls were still attacking us despite clearly providing proof to Fluff that we weren't thieves and weren't going to cause trouble, the bear simply replied, "Why does that mean we can't have any fun?" "Fun" in this context apparently being defined as stabbing and setting fire to us taller folk. Unable to come up with a decent rebuttal, I left them to their own devices and hurried to catch up to Felix and, now, Martin and Jager.
Felix had found his way into a room with a large summoning circle or other magical rune on the ground, with a huge stone desk covering some kind of porthole or passage below. On the far side of the room was a huge stone door covered in runes, which matched glyphs on the side and edges of the desk; I was able to determine that the runes on the door would, when activated with a password pattern, do something to the desk; however I couldn't tell what, and I didn't know the code, so we doubled back to catch up to Martin, who had found another hallway ending in another door, this one locked. While Felix picked the lock thereon, Martin headed back and went upstairs, presumably to talk to Anzara, while Jager just remained back in the hall, waiting for something interesting to happen.
Felix got the door open and found a moderate-sized library therein, its floor strewn with dust, books, bones, and strangely enough a pile of bizarre treasures and trash mixed at the feet of a long-dessicated skeleton. On the wall opposite the remnants of the corpse, a bloody message was scrawled: "HE WHO STEALS FROM ME DIES BY MY HAND".
Clearly it was a trap. The question was what kind of a trap it was. Felix, being the best at such things, went in first. I waited out in the hall, while Martin decided to leave the investigation to us and backtrack to go see Anzara. Jager drifted around nearby, seemingly with nothing to do, waiting semi-impatiently.
Felix managed to sneak his way into the middle of the room before a pair of Shadows materialized and began poking around looking for the intruder; they apparently didn't notice me lurking outside the room, or if they did were distracted when Felix suddenly went on the offensive. However, breaking his cover to attack the undead roused the rest of the room - the skull on the pile of treasure and bones suddenly rose into the air, screaming "Thieves! Thieves!" and launched deadly magic at Felix, which thankfully he managed to shrug off. It did this several times before Jager and Martin ran back and they and I barraged the skull and shadows alike with spells and arrows. Anzara came walking slowly back but before she arrived we managed to not only disperse the shadows but silence the screaming skull, and seeing the battle already over she went back the way she'd come and sat on the stairs to wait.
We poked around at the room for a bit before something one of us said - I'm not sure exactly what - caused the skull to rouse again. This time though it seemed less hostile and a bit more lucid, so we attempted to converse with it. We soon learned that it was a he - Dontalus Bisby, leader of the Hunters, or what was left of him. He entertained some of our questions for a while, revealing that he'd created the dolls that were now guarding the museum and that he'd seen to the sealing away of the Morrowfall after Ilnerik disappeared with the Totemrix. He also told us a little about the Hunters, the museum, his falling-out with Ilnerik, and, most of all, how to bypass the runed door in the summoning room: the door was a fake, a distraction, keyed to some kind of trap. Instead we were to use the runes to spell out a passage code, "Behold the Amber Arca" - which, admittedly, confused me at first because the way he said it suggested I was supposed to look at something in the room, so when I started looking around for something amber Bisby got a little irritated and chided me, as well as made a snarky remark about me obviously not being a wizard.
Regardless, I repeated our promise of returning the museum's artifacts - after we were done with them, in the long term, of course - and assured Bisby that we'd see to the reuniting of the Aohl's separate parts, and he bid us good luck before returning to whatever silent slumber he drifted off to as the undead thing he was. We then dispersed over to the summoning room - attempting to cajole Anzara to join us along the way, which she did, slowly and very reluctantly and still in somewhat of a sour mood despite my attempts at apology - and entered the pass code on the wall, which caused the runed desk to slide aside, revealing a passageway below.
This took us down into a set of crossed corridors, which were littered with the remains of several smashed doors and lit by a glowing object straight ahead - the Morrowfall. Between us and it were four humanoid figures; I couldn't get a good look at them, but Anzara revealed that they were Vampire Spawn, and that currently their attention was on the artifact ahead, allowing us an opportunity - if we were careful - to make an ambush attack. Felix snuck into position then Anzara charged, removing her gloves and brandishing a holy symbol tattoo on the back of one hand, causing the Vampires to stumble back in shock and fear.
We all went on the attack, swinging weapons and launching spells, and were soon joined by two more figures - a heavily-tattooed, bulky Vampire man with a large crossbow attacking from the shadows in the north hall, and a robed and hooded caster launching negative energy blasts from the south. Finding ourselves surrounded, I had to admit at a moment of panic which led to my greatest mistake of my adventuring career - I retrieved the scroll we'd found in the crux and unleashed its magic, blasting the room with sunlight. On the good side, the four Spawn and the tattooed figure were reduced to dust, and the hooded figure wounded enough to seek flight; on the downside, Felix and Anzara weren't quite quick enough to shield their eyes, and the burst seared their sight, blinding them both. Anzara reacted to this with unexpected violence, lashing out at me and managing a pretty brutal clawing despite her blindness, before I could break away and throw a spell to finish off the fleeing Vampire; Felix on the other hand remained leaning on the wall, not trusting his feet to navigate in the sudden personal darkness.
With the threat of the vampires stilled, Anzara stomped blindly back up the stairs and left the rest of us behind, cursing and grumbling under her breath the entire way; Martin investigated the room where the last Vampire had fled and found its coffin and decapitated it, as well as two other empty coffins - probably at least one belonging to the tattooed vampire. I made my way first up the north passage and found a ravaged libarary; tucked away behind one of the shelves was a dazed and drunken-looking Vahnwynne, obviously the victim of multiple vampire bites but still alive and possessed of herself. I led her back to the group and left her with Jager, Martin, and Felix, then went to retrieve the Morrowfall.
The artifact was content to be left undisturbed, and when I started getting close it became noticeably hostile. It fired a few rays of light at random angles, though thankfully they mostly hit the walls, then when I was almost within range of grabbing it unleashed a burst of light as bright as that from the scroll, if smaller in range; thankfully I'd suspected this and managed to cover my eyes in time, again, and when the sparks cleared from my vision I lunged up and seized the object out of the air; as soon as I laid hands on it, thankfully, it stilled and quieted. Behind it was a small stash of equipment; a quick search through found a mithral rapier and a handful of scrolls of remove blindness/deafness, a miraculous blessing in light of the events of my panicked tactics. I ran back immediately with the treasures in hand, used one of the scrolls on Felix, and handed him the rapier; I then asked him and Martin to lead Vahnwynne out while I ran ahead to use a second scroll on Anzara. Unfortunately, she had absolutely zero interest in letting me mend the injuries I'd inflicted; I pocketed the scrolls for the time being, figuring I could hand them over to someone else who could do the job instead, since Anzara was uninterested in my own assistance.
We managed, with blind Anzara and dazed Vahnwynne in tow, to make our way back to the safehouse, where Arael, Janiven, and Ailyn were all waiting for us. We turned Vahnwynne over to our mysterious benefactor, informing her that other than the bites and blood loss she appeared to be fine, and promised to give an update on what we'd learned in there in short time. I handed the scrolls over to Arael, but when he attempted to offer their magic to Anzara, she rebuffed him as adamantly as she had me, insisting that she'd heal herself tomorrow with her own magic, and trudged off to the streets with Martin leading her, muttering about needing a drink and making their way, presumably, to Mac's.
At this point I have to admit I was getting a little despondent. I've never really had friends before, not like the group we have (well, maybe not Jager, yet), and both Anzara and Felix were particularly close, and while Felix was being civil, he was still a little curt toward me for the rest of the night, and Anzara had gone from alternatingly frustrating and childish to outright hostile over the course of the night. I asked Felix what he recommended I do, but his advice was unfortunately limited to "apologize and then let things take their course". We talked a little longer before he left for the night to return to his own lodgings; rather than make my way back home, I elected just to spend the night in the safehouse. I didn't particularly feel like walking the streets alone.
End Case Three: What Lies in Dust.