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The jingling of the bell roused Tussle from his focus on putting exactly enough powdered nettle in the rouge. Too much, and the concoction would sting the lady's face, making her quite unhappy. Too little, and she would not get the redness of cheek she so desired, and she would again be unhappy. And if she was unhappy, his master would be unhappy. And his master would make sure that he was unhappy. Such was Tussle's life. He sighed again, wondering what had happened to the application he had eagerly handed over to a Pathfinder what seemed like ages ago.
The gentle forced cough reminded Tussle that someone had entered the shop. He looked up, and was a bit surprised to see a young human lad in noble's finery; this far down in Ordellia, wearing noble's clothing could get you pelted with rocks, or dung, or worse. Tussle wiped his gloves on his apron, thought it might be fun to shake the young man's hand with the gloves still on, then thought better of it and removed them. "Can I help you?"
The young man bowed, which Tussle hadn't been expecting, then asked, "Mr. Tussle?"
"I have this message for you, sir!"
The young man handed Tussle the message, looked Tussle up and down as if evaluating something about him, then spun about on his heel and left the shop.
The message did not help Tussle's confusion. "Greetings, fellow seeker of adventure! I am Sheila Heidmarch, Venture Captain of the newest Pathfinder Society lodge -- and the only such lodge in Varisia at this time. You have come to my attention as someone who possesses a certain amount of skills and interests that make you an excellent addition to a highly specialized team I'm putting together for a matter of gave import, not only to the Society, but to Varisia as a whole. Please report an hour before noon to Heidmarch Manor -- you will be compensated for your visit, but that reward will pale in light of the riches that await you should we come to an agreement on my proposition to you. I look forward to meeting you soon! Sheila Heidmarch"
As far as he could tell, she was offering to pay him to not work as an alchemist's apprentice in Ordellia, and that sounded significantly better than what he was doing now, so he abandoned the rouge, his gloves, his apron, and the shop, gathered up his "adventuring gear" consisting of a pack of traveling gear and his trusty pistol, then headed out.
He might have forgotten to tell his master that he was leaving. Or quitting. Or to have even checked the time to know whether it was the correct time to go. But such is the life of a gnome.
Tussle crossed the bridge out of Ordellia, past the infamous sawmill that had burned down in a blaze of righteous fire a few years ago, and on into Keystone. He knew his way well, as he'd been in Magnimar for several years (arriving just before that fire, and being ecstatic that he hadn't been blamed for it), then up through Lowcleft and onto the High road leading to upper Magnimar. Now this was a path he had never taken.
In fact, the moment he set foot on it and started trying to make his way up to the Capital District, two guards stopped him. "What's your business in the Capital District?"
"I have an invitation."
He showed them the invitation. Once they'd determined it was genuine, they looked for other reasons to detain him. "What's that weapon on your belt?"
Tussle was happy to tell them about his pistol, show it to them, go into details about how it worked, and otherwise convince them that they were better off just letting him move on. "Just try not to get into any trouble up there. Stick to the main roads, and go straight to the manor."
If he heard murmurs complaining about Lady Heidmarch letting any old riff-raff into Upper Magnimar, he certainly pretended he didn't hear them.
The Capital District was a dizzying assortment of massive buildings, far finer than any Tussle had ever seen, but passersby seeing an obviously work-hardened crafting gnome were happy to point him towards the crafting district, which just so happened to take him towards the Alabaster district as well. The craftsmen were more than happy to help him with more directions, until he came to the gate to the Alabaster district. Once again, he was stopped by gruff guards. Once again, he showed them his invitation. Once again, they complained about the sorts the Lady was allowing into the district, but there was nothing they could do. They assigned Tussle a young page to show him to the manor, and the page led him directly there. There seemed to be no other adventuring types in the district; everyone on the street was either a noble or a servant, so Tussle could see how he might seem out-of-place. The page led him to a large villa with an open front gate, told Tussle that he could go inside, and held out his hand in a strange cuplike manner.
Tussle duplicated the gesture.
This was apparently the wrong thing to do, as the page stormed off, irritated.
Tussle admired the topiary, the white gravel walk, and the huge lawn, but he was more interested in the job. He walked in the front door and was greeted by a lovely young halfling woman named Mary. She immediately knew who he was, smiled, invited him in, apologized that the Lady was in a meeting and he would have to wait a bit, and had a human butler named Giles bring him to a small waiting room with assorted furniture for small, medium, and large humanoids. Tussle grabbed a few snacks from Giles, clambered up onto the largest chair in the room, and waited.
PC Name: Tussle
Player: Impus Minor
Race/Class: Male Gnome Gunslinger (Pistolero)
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That is, until he met Nur Einspiel.
Tussle first met Nur at the Swallowtail festival, when Nur was putting on the fireworks show, dedicated to "our poor cousins the oppressed goblinfolk of the world."
Nobody paid much attention to what Nur was saying, because his fireworks really were quite spectacular, but Tussle, being a young gnome lad, was more interested in seeing how they worked than in how they exploded. So he crawled into the cart to find out.
Unfortunately, this was just as Nur slipped (as he frequently did) and dropped a firework into the rest of the fireworks (as he frequently did) and only knocked most of them clear before the ensuing explosion (as he frequently did). Tussle was extremely lucky that he lost nothing more than his eyebrows, and Nur declared it the greatest sign of serendipity he'd ever seen. He told Tussle that he'd grow up to be, "Just like Hi," but then got a bit of a melancholy look in his eye. Tussle learned from his relatives that Nur had a son named Hi who used to travel with him, but now they traveled separately. No one would openly say why, but whispers were that Nur was a bit too dangerous and unstable, even for his own son. Tussle was intrigued. He wanted to learn more!
Nur was more than willing to take on a new apprentice, but Tussle's parents quickly came up with the excuse that Tussle was still too young to travel. Disappointed, Nur left him some "experiments" that he'd been working on involving flash powder, hollow tubes, and bits of potato. The mechanically-inclined Tussle didn't take long at all to figure out how to assemble them all into the Best Potato-Masher Ever. Nur didn't return to Sandpoint the next year, so Tussle had to experiment on his own. The wooden tubes didn't last long, so Tussle had Das Korvut, the local smith, make him a metal one. Potatoes weren't ideal projectiles, so he started using sling stones. After a few years, a traveling adventurer pointed out that Tussle's invention looked very much like a "pistol". Tussle HAD to have one! And Tussle's parents, being gnomes, found him one and let him practice.
And practice, and practice, and practice. Tussle became so adept with the weapon that he could shoot a goblin between the eyes at ten paces. Or at least one of Daviren Hosk's stuffed goblin targets. Life was swell!
Until he met the goblins.
They crept in at night a few days before the Swallowtail Festival, scouting around for reasons unknown, being much more sneaky than usual, but Tussle saw them. Remembering Nur's teachings, he asked them what they wanted. They wanted fireworks! The kind Nur had used at the festival! They wanted to use them, and to know how they worked! They showed Tussle that they had some. He cheerfully showed them how to light them, how to point them, and told them what they did. They thanked him, cackled, and ran off. Tussle was proud of his good deed.
Until the day of the Swallowtail Festival, when the goblins used those fireworks to attack, killing multiple visitors before a group of adventurers (including a gnome named Hi, who was probably Nur's son) killed them or drove them off. Tussle was devastated. How could he tell his parents what he'd done? How could he tell anyone? Mortified, he confessed to Father Zantus that maybe, just maybe, he might have helped the goblins in some way.
Father Zantus was a kind man. He pointed out that the goblins in the attack had not used fireworks. Perhaps Tussle had assisted a different goblin tribe? Maybe they really had gone their own way, and were plaguing other goblins instead of humans. But all in all, now that Tussle was of age to travel, perhaps he should consider, er, "moving on" from Sandpoint before any more trouble appeared.
Tussle took the hint and wandered… all the way to Magnimar. He just wasn't much of a wanderer. He quickly found employment as an alchemist's assistant in Ordellia, working for several years and watching with great relief as the Heros of Sandpoint stopped the Runelord Karzoug from conquering Varisia, and finally realized that THAT was his calling: To be an adventurer, and to save the world from would-be conquerors!
But… how does one become an adventurer? Tussle had no idea. He asked his master, and his master suggested that Tussle join the Pathfinders Guild up in the Alabaster District. That seemed too far to Tussle, so he asked around Ordellia, found a drunken Pathfinder in a tavern, filled out some paperwork the Pathfinder was carrying, and set down to wait...
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Xondra broke off a piece of the loaf she had just "liberated" from the baker's stand and tossed it past Micu. Micu darted after it, sprung in the air, and pounced, like a snow fox on a mouse hidden under a fresh frost. As Micu crunched away at the treat, Xondra sighed. It was supposed to be different than this.
Xondra's first memories were of being part of the ubiquitous pack of urchins that lived in Underbridge. She never knew nor cared who her parents had been. They had left her with a slightly curious appearance -- typical Varisian hair and skin color, slightly pointed ears, and strange white eyes -- but nothing else. She was taken in early by the Vulpescu, one of the many Sczarni clans, who praised their luck. For here was a cute little girl whose whited-out eyes could convince even the most skeptical of passersby of her blindness. Even better, the same quirk of fate that had whited out her eyes had granted her excellent vision in the dark, making her a fantastic lookout. As first, as she was in training, she was just a poor blind girl begging for change, either on her own or while the other Sczarni performed more nefarious tasks. A quick whistle was all it took to send them scurrying safely back to the shadows, and no one ever questioned why the young blind girl whistled at random in the streets; perhaps she was just touched in the head.
As she grew older, the Sczarni had greater inspiration, and taught her how to dress as an aged Varisian fortune-teller. They taught her to read people and make vague promises about the future that gullible travelers wanted to hear. Xondra was good at it, and for many years she embraced the life of the Sczarni, bilking random people and providing distractions while her brethren picked pockets. As the years went by, however, she began to wonder... was this really all there was to life? Begging for change on street corners during the day, and swindling gullible sailors or other travelers in the evening? She was tired of being a leech; she felt like there had to be more... a better way of life... but she wasn't sure what it was.
The first Pathfinder she tried to swindle saw through her in an instant. Instead of being angry, he smiled, handed her a slip of paper, and said, "You know, someone with your talents could be of use to the Pathfinders."
Rumors of the newly-formed Pathfinder Lodge in Magnimar reaching out to the Sczarni had spread far and wide; the Pathfinders wanted the Sczarni's information network, and they were willing to look the other way if the information were gathered in a… less-than-honorable manner. Xondra had never expected the Pathfinders to be interested in her, a poor orphan of questionable descent with no particular talents beyond seeing in the dark and bluffing the gullible out of their well-earned coin.
But the Pathfinders traveled. They traveled the world, and saw oh so many things, and had probably even met the Heroes of Sandpoint in person. Imagine that! The most powerful heroes the world had ever known, and people right here in this city had met them! Xondra did not know much about what she wanted, but she knew she wanted that. That very evening she knelt down and prayed to Desna. She prayed for help finding her way... should she work to become a better person? Would that get her out of Underbridge and into the wide world? Would that bring her fulfillment... even joy? And there, under a full moon, with the stars twinkling in the blackness, a small fox approached.
He sauntered up to her and looked at her expectantly. She held out her hand and he sniffed it delicately before giving it a lick. She felt a pulse of emotion from the little animal, a warm feeling of greeting. She picked him up and he snuggled into her arms. "Gheara Micu," she murmured to him "my Little Fang." She felt a soft surge of approval from him at the name. She hoped beyond hope that he had been sent by Desna, but he neither confirmed nor denied this. And with him, he brought power. Xondra could focus on a man and he would be afflicted by unluck. Micu knew magic, and could share some of that magic with her.
She was blessed, and she needed to leave the Sczarni. She needed to become more than a thug so that the Pathfinders would find her and take her in. She went and told the Vulpescu that she was leaving them. They laughed her away. "Good luck to you, little sister," they called after her, "without us you will be dead within the week!" They did not say it, but she knew they would never allow her to return again. That was the way of things. She was no longer Xondra Vulpescu, but once again Xondra Orfanul... Xondra the Orphan.
Unfortunately, the Pathfinders were more interested in Sczarni than ex-Sczarni; one came by and noted that she was now a "witch", which seemed an awfully offensive thing to say, but the woman seemed to mean no harm by it, so Xondra let it go. And while the Sczarni weren't vengeful towards her for leaving, she was no longer under their protection. This marked her as easy prey in the seamy alleyways of Underbridge. So she spent most of her time near the temple of Sarenrae in Underbridge. Everyone knew of Brandi, the gardening paladin, and how a single scream for help would bring her trundling in all her glory, plate armor clanging and gardening apron flapping, until she had dealt justice upon the perpetrator. Although she had never killed a man to the Sczarni's knowledge, being struck by the flat of her blade was likened to meeting an adamantine wall face-first at a full run. And so neither the Sczarni, nor the other more violent denizens of Underbridge, frequented the area near her temple, making it a perfect refuge for Xondra while she tried to figure out her next step.
And that was when the note arrived.
The moment the paladin approached, Xondra prepared to flee. But he was smiling, and his scimitar was sheathed. "Er… Miss Xondra? Formerly of the Sczarni? Lady of the Blessed White Eyes? I've been asked to bring you a note, m'Lady."
Everyone knew the story of Rae'Sheleth, drow paladin of Sarenrae, and how not only had she slain Karzoug with her own hand, but had ascended to demigodhood at her mistress' right hand. So Xondra's white eyes were yet again a life-saver! This paladin would never dare touch his temple's founder's likeness! She accepted the note gracefully. As she looked down to read, she could not help but notice the paladin put his hand on the pommel of his scimitar, watching over her as she was distracted.
When she had been a Sczarni, the paladins at the temple had been a constant annoyance. Now that she was in need of refuge, she found his presence quite reassuring. She read the note. "Greetings, fellow seeker of adventure! I am Sheila Heidmarch, Venture Captain of the newest Pathfinder Society lodge -- and the only such lodge in Varisia at this time. You have come to my attention as someone who possesses a certain amount of skills and interests that make you an excellent addition to a highly specialized team I'm putting together for a matter of gave import, not only to the Society, but to Varisia as a whole. Please report an hour before noon to Heidmarch Manor -- you will be compensated for your visit, but that reward will pale in light of the riches that await you should we come to an agreement on my proposition to you. I look forward to meeting you soon! Sheila Heidmarch"
She thanked the paladin for his service, knowing that was all he would accept from her (which made her like them all the more). She called to Micu, donned the sheer black veil she always wore over her eyes when in full sun, and headed for the High Road. This should be… interesting…
Sure enough, she had barely taken her first step on the road when two guards stopped her. "State your business in the Upper City."
"*I* have an invitation."
The guards pored over the invitation, desperate to find anything wrong with it, but eventually decided they would have to search her.
"Is anything wrong?"
"No; this is just routine," they lied.
Eventually, finding no way to stop her, the guards let her through. She sniffed, "Such a job, keeping innocent Varisian women from going where they will in this city!" She gave them a withering glare from under her veil as she strode on, and overheard one whisper to the other, "Well, at least she looks better walking away than she did walking up."
She swayed her hips a bit more as she walked, just to rub it in.
The entrance to the Alabaster District was no better, with the guards even insisting on providing her with an escort to Heidmarch Manor. She accepted the escort blandly, and mischievously offered to read his palm. She enjoyed getting a rise out of people and guards were typically a superstitious lot.
"I get off work at 5, ma'am."
"I didn't ask when you got off work, I asked to see your palm."
"Not while I'm on duty. I get off at 5."
"Well, you'll be getting off alone."
"Most nights I do, ma'am, but I do get off at 5."
She ignored his further attempts to flirt, and he awkwardly led her to the villa, then took his leave.
Left to her own devices, Xondra decided to "case the joint". She had never really been the one to do this and she wasn't very good, but she wanted to see if anyone would stop her. Xondra and Micu moved through the topiary garden, making note of entrances. If this failed utterly, maybe she could sell the information to some enterprising (and ambitious) cat burglar. After a full circumnavigation of the manor they went in. Mary the halfling greeted them cheerfully and by name, and led them into a small foyer. The only other person there was a small gnome on the largest chair in the room.
"Ooh! You have a fox! Can I talk to it?"
After staring at the fox for a minute, Tussle asked, "It doesn't talk, does it?"
Xondra smiled, amused.
"No, he doesn't."
Tussle was disappointed.
PC Name: Xondra Orfanul
Race/Class: Female Half-Elf Moon Witch (Drow Heritage)
Familiar: Gheara Micu (fox)
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Lance Sterling had an unusual childhood from the start. First and foremost, he survived. A half-orc child of human parents in the farmlands north of Sirathu in Varisia was typically a reminder of events best forgotten, and few would remark on the small unmarked grave in the turnip patch. Yet Lance was allowed to survive. And not only was he allowed to survive, he was raised by his parents to be a good follower of Desna, as they knew they would have to travel often in order to ensure his survival.
Sure enough, he wasn't even a handful of years old before the vague threats and condescending comments grew into open acts of vandalism against the farm, and Lance's parents, unwilling to wish ill upon their neighbors, packed up and moved westwards towards Nybor, where they heard that all half-races were welcome. Unfortunately, they quickly found that even Nybor's overall tolerance of halfbreeds did not protect half-orc children from teasing, bullying, and worse. Undaunted, they kept moving westwards, as Desna willed.
Being Varisian, their westward trip was not a matter of days nor weeks nor months, but of years. And Lance grew, and grew, and grew, and by eight years old stood a bit taller than his father. His strong build made him an excellent laborer in spite of his tender age, and he was able to earn coin for the family in every village, farm, watering hole, or homestead along the way. However, he was still a half-orc, and he was still reviled, no matter where he went, nor how kindly he nor his parents were to the locals. While he appreciated that it was Desna's will that he travel the world, he began to wonder whether he would ever find a place that appreciated men (and half-orcs) for who they were, not what they were.
Eventually, his family settled into a farmstead on the outskirts of a quaint little town named Sandpoint. Sandpoint gave him hope, because their main garbage collector was a half-orc named Gorvi, and he seemed to be well-respected (if not well-liked) and did a job that everyone appreciated. In spite of Lance's tender age, Gorvi was more than willing to take on a fellow half-orc in his dung-sweeping, and Gorvi had a job and was content, and might have spent the rest of his days sweeping dung in Sandpoint.
Unfortunately, Jervis Stoot had other ideas.
The eccentric wood carver immediately noticed the new young half-orc around town, and quickly showed an interest: Who were his parents? Were they both human? Why didn't they live in town? Weren't they afraid of the goblins? After several such interrogations, Stoot suggested that Lance might want to visit Madame Mvashti, the local seer. Lance, excited to know what the future might hold, visited her, shiny coin in hand, and if she was repelled by his odor or by the filth he tracked on to her floor, she managed to mask it brilliantly. She asked him questions about what he hoped to learn: Did he want to know of his adulthood? His old age? His marriage? It quickly became apparent that his questions were more spiritual than material: Why was he here? What was his purpose? How could he find greater spiritual health and happiness?
Not being one to pass up an honest coin, Madame Mvashti gave Lance his reading: He had more important things to do in life than shovel dung. Taking the hint from the stars, Madame Mvashti gently steered the young half-orc to Father Tobyn, who was more than willing to take in another acolyte of Desna, and thus Lance's spiritual training began. Unfortunately, Lance did not have the quick wit or gentle patience of Abstalar Zantus, nor the wanderlust of the other acolytes who came and went, so more often than not he was using his skills with a shovel in the Sandpoint Cemetery rather than his skills with the spoken word to provide spiritual guidance.
Then, the Unpleasantness started, and Lance found himself very, very busy. It was on an evening when he was digging the graves for the previous victims that a tearful Abstalar came to him: Lance's parents had just been found.
Abstalar and Lance dug their graves together. Lance took no solace when Stoot was eventually revealed to be the Chopper; he felt only a dull numbness, and a longing to be somewhere else; anywhere else. Over the next few years, he traveled Varisia, looking for a place to call home, but knowing that a half-orc would never have one. Until he came to Magnimar and paid his respects at the Cynosure Tower. Bevaluu recognized the pain and longing in the young half-orc's heart, and suggested that perhaps he should register with the local Pathfinder Lodge, and until then he could work at Serpent's Run as a healer. She'd put in a word for him.
Grateful for her help, Lance started his first official job as a cleric of Desna, healing the gladiators from their mock combats, casting an occasional buff or debuff to make the fights more exciting, or otherwise contributing to the grand spectacle. The gladiators didn't care that he was a half-orc; they knew he was a healer, and he could patch them up no matter how much they were hurting, so he was well-liked and respected. The town guard who frequented Serpent's Run and participated in the annual gladiatorial extravaganza appreciated him as well, and he soon found that he could travel almost anywhere in Magnimar without attracting unwanted attention from the guard, though he still avoided Underbridge because of the Shoanti gangs looking to cause trouble for half-orcs, or the Capital District or Naos because of old prejudices. He had found a home. But he still felt the need to wander.
Thus, when Sheila Heidmarch's note arrived for him, he was overjoyed. He told Axetongue not to wait up for him, and set off to see what the "matter of grave import" was all about. He had no trouble getting to Heidmarch Manor; the guards were eager to help him along the way, but for the most part he knew how to get to the gates leading into the swankier areas of the Alabaster District, and from there his friends in the guard were more than happy to show him the way. As he walked up to the villa, he spotted the tail end of a female half-elf stepping in the door.
The day was looking better and better.
OK, OK. I know it's been nearly two weeks, but... we have two players who've never done my campaign journals before, -and- they're the two most time-impacted members of the group, so cut 'em some slack.
Their backgrounds are done and out to them for final edits, the wrap-up for session 1 is done and out to the group for final edits, and session 2 is done and out to the group for final edits.
So yes, I'm writing. A ton. And my players are suffering for it.
Once they've conquered the mountainous backlog I've created for them I'm sure further posts will start pouring in.
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Sasha was born on the road, as most Varisians are, under the night sky, as most Varisians are, yet his pointed ears made it clear that his father wasn't a member of the clan. Nevertheless, his birth was celebrated by drinking and singing and dancing and tale-telling, and several of the elders read the Harrow for him, then bickered and argued over the conflicting readings they came up with. All that anyone would say for certain was that he would certainly be trouble. Because all young boys are trouble, and one with elven blood? Well, that was a double dose!
His first few years were classic Varisian: The caravan traveled wherever their whim took them, occasionally stopping in cities to resupply or to trade crafts for foodstuff and raw materials, but typically sleeping in their tents and wagons under the open sky. Sasha learned to dance, and sing, and play the tambourine, but his dancing quickly eclipsed his other talents and, as Varisians are wont to do, they let him abandon his other pursuits in favor of dancing and playing at making cities, building great piles of stones and declaring proudly that he had built Magnimar, or Korvosa, or even Absolom, only to have the structure collapse on the next bump in the road.
Sasha didn't understand what happened next. One night, as he was lying in his bed in his colorful wagon, he heard angry voices outside. This wasn't unusual; he knew that the people in his caravan often had arguments with locals or each other, especially after a few drinks, and in particular arguing over women or items they had "procured", whatever that meant, but this time was different: He heard his mother's voice among those arguing. There were strange words, such as "pregnant" or angry words like, "I warned him that if he ever returned I'd cut off his ears," but Sasha didn't understand. He knew that in the caravan the harsh words frequently led to violence, and he hoped his mother would be OK. She had to be OK!
He lay awake, hoping beyond hope she would return to him, and she did! He heard her come in, sobbing, and he lay there silently as she moved over, reached into her bag, and pulled a small leaf-wrapped item out of it. She spoke softly to it, and it glowed slightly. Magic! Then she came to bed and held him, and everything was better.
There was no mention of the argument the next day, but even Sasha could sense the angry eyes of the clan on him and his mother. What had he done? What had she done?
When the elf with the piercing eyes clamped his hand over Sasha's mouth in the dead of night, he seemed somehow familiar, and so Sasha was not nearly as afraid as he should have been. The man scooped him up and carried him to the hole he'd cut in the wagon's canvas, effortlessly stepped out, and then held out a hand to help Sasha's mother step down. Sasha stayed still, but he heard snippets of their whispered conversation. "Magnimar? Are you sure?"
"The clan will scour the forests for us, and the elves will see no reason not to share our location with them for the right amount of coin. We must flee to a city, one so large that we can be invisible."
"But living in a city? It seems so hopeless. So horrible!"
"It should only be for a few years, my love! The Varisians are quick to anger, but just as quick to forget that anger."
Sasha's mother's arman manifested the very next day: As the three of them slipped quietly through the forest, through trees too dense to allow pursuit by horse or by wagon, she screamed and doubled over, then the scream became more of a yowl as she started shrinking, shrinking, shrinking into nothingness! There, on the ground, was nothing but her clothing, still gently pulsing as if her heart were still there, beating underneath the heaps of vibrant cloth.
Except… something was there! Sasha reached down to move the clothes, and his father did not intervene. He moved back a fold of his mother's dress, and a pair of golden eyes gazed back at him. A hesitant, "Mew?" came from the small calico cat that was all that was left of his mother. He scooped her up, and she did not resist, and the elf said, "Bring her! We may be able to break this curse, whatever it is!"
That evening as the elf was preparing their meal and Sasha was still holding the now-struggling cat, she suddenly grew again, and his mother was back!
Moira was born in a hovel in the bowels of Rag's End, well-hidden from even the lowest of the Sczarni who might be searching for their family. She shared her mother's arman, changing into a black and white cat on occasion and then back again. The first time she changed, her father declared that he "would put an end to this curse once and for all". He never came back. The arman stayed.
For four years they lived as well as they could when two of the three family members randomly became cats. Sasha's mother would take odd jobs to help feed the kids, and many strangers came to "help", but usually the help was asking Sasha to carry this or that thing to this or that place without looking in the bag because it was "dangerous", and because Sasha was strong and brave and wanted to protect his mother and his sister he did as they asked. Then one day their mother didn't come back, either.
At first, some of their mother's "friends" helped take care of them. But only for as long as Sasha would run their errands for them, and those errands seemed to be going to more and more dangerous places, and Sasha worried more and more about leaving Moira alone with them, because he knew that the people in their area of Rag's End were desperate enough to steal and eat a cat should the opportunity present itself. So while he was on these trips, Sasha scrounged and stole, bringing what he could back to Moira, and trying to build a hoard that would get them out of there. Fortunately, her "curse" turned out to be a blessing at this point, because in her arman form she would cheerfully hunt and eat mice and rats, keeping her from starvation, so for the most part Sasha could focus on procuring things he thought were valuable.
Unfortunately, their "friends" knew of Sasha's loyalty to Moira, and used her more and more often to blackmail him into things he wouldn't even tell Moira about. But he kept reminding himself: He was doing it to keep her alive. And they would get out. He would make sure of it. And on the nights where he had done something particularly vile, it was as if she sensed it, because, whether cat or half-elf, she would snuggle against him, and purr, and he would remember that no matter what he had to do, it was to protect her.
Their chance for escape came in the most unlikely of ways, as it always does. Sasha was taking a "package" to a guard near Serpent's Run, and he was supposed to tell the guard that, "The bull always runs faster when fed moldy oats," and hand him the package. He suspected it was some kind of drug to be given to the racing bulls at Serpent's Run, but he didn't care. But then he saw the cracking wall.
Years of experience playing with stones and construction told him that the wall wouldn't last the day. And he still doesn't know why he did it, but he moved up and started moving the stones, and arranging the earth, and trying to repair the damage. A gruff voice behind him asked, "Wouldn't that be easier with some tools?"
Without thinking, Sasha accepted the mallet and chisel from the grizzled dwarf and started to work in earnest. But you can't repair faulty stone with faulty stone; he needed fresh, good stone! As if on cue, the dwarf said, "I suppose you'll be needing these," and pulled an impossible number of fresh-cut bricks from a seemingly-endless backpack. Sasha set back to work, and eventually was satisfied that the wall would last through the day.
"Well, I'd be a liar if I said that was the best work I'd ever seen a half-elf do, but considering you clearly have never had any training at all, it shows you've got an eye for stone. How'd you like to be my apprentice?"
And thus began Sasha's career as an apprentice to Gorlaff Scruffbeard, stonemason. With his very first pay, he moved himself and Moira to a common room in Dockway that was being shared by over a dozen laborers, but the workers respected Moira's need for privacy so a little work with a bedsheet and some nails gave them all the privacy they needed until Sasha could finish his apprenticeship.
However, fate would step in again. Scruffbeard's company was hired to help work on a new expansion for the Arena, and Jorston "Axetongue" Droaeb spotted Sasha smashing stone with a giant maul and figured it was close enough to the weapons the Shoanti used that he could probably hire Sasha to perform in some of the mock gladiatorial battles, as hammers are easy to pad. And thus "The Red Sash" was born, named for the distinctive sash he wore into his battles. Few knew that it was of his sole remaining possessions from his mother. After the first fight, however, he quickly bought new sashes to avoid damaging his mother's. And one of the benefits of working at Serpent's Run was that you could get a simple cell to live in. Axetongue was a bit taken aback when Sasha wanted to move in with his sister, but he saw no harm in it and allowed it.
While Sasha learned stonemasonry and combat, Moira focused on trying to find a cure for her arman. She dabbled in magic and alchemy, searching for an answer, and was more often found poring over scrolls and books in some corner arcane bookshop than in her cell. And if she happened to turn into a cat while researching, she still always found her way back to Serpent's Run.
The pair of them came to the attention of the Pathfinder Society early, as a fighter/investigator combo is an extremely valuable asset, and they started sponsoring Sasha in his tournaments, and recommended well-known, easy-to-explore ruins for Moira so she could learn the ropes of dungeon delving without running into anything too dangerous for her to handle.
Thus, neither were surprised to be called to Heidmarch Manor, but Moira had to finish something up, and so Sasha went on ahead…
PC Name: Sasha Mason, aka The Red Sash
Player: Lara Croft Guy
Race/Class: Male Half-Elf Slayer
PC Name: Moira
Player: She Who Has Yet to be Nicknamed (SWHYTBN)
Race/Class: Female Half-Elf Investigator
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Session 2, Played 24-Nov-2019
It took mere moments for Moira to arrive, explaining her tardiness with a terse, "I was on a job". The Lady Heidmarch, not taken aback in the least, again apologized for her delay in meeting with them, but quickly realized she had something she could set them to do. She led them into an exquisitely-furnished study, with bookcase after bookcase of books, scrolls, and manuscripts. Elaborate vases were placed artistically throughout the room, plus a table with a glass dome, inside of which was a fanged skull and a placard reading, "Demilich - Dormant?"
The most interesting feature of the room was an ornate stone coffer sitting on a table in the middle of the room, with a sheaf of hand-scrawled notes next to it. The Lady Heidmarch explained that this was a "puzzle box", an ancient Thassilonian lockbox that could only be opened using a particular technique that the party would have to decipher. Some responded to magic, some to touch, and others some combination. Although she suspected it was empty, she asked the party not to shake it, drop it, nor smash it open, as that would destroy its value. (She said the last after Lance noted that he knew how to open any box and started drawing his greataxe.) She suggested that the party review Pathfinder Azmeren's notes for clues as to what might open this particular box.
After the Lady and the Pathfinder departed, Moira surprised everyone by actually picking up the notes and reading them. The scribblings across every face of the box were in Thassilonian, and although the elaborate decorations hid them well Pathfinder Azmeren had determined that the most-common rune on the box was the rune for Wrath (or Kindness, depending on whether the box was pre- or post-decline), but the Pathfinder suspected that this just meant that the owner had been a resident of Bakrakhan. Five of the faces were identical, but the sixth had five additional cleverly-hidden runes spelling out CRUEL. Even more interestingly, touching any two of the runes caused them to switch places.
Xondra immediately piped up: "Lucre! It's filthy lucre!"
Without batting an eye, Moira rearranged the runes to spell LUCRE and was rewarded with the sound of a click, and visible seams appearing all around the top of the box. Not one for patience, Lance Sterling flipped off the lid…
...and marveled as two small doglike creatures materialized right then and there…
...and darted past the party and into the room, and started destroying the most-valuable objects they could see! One of the little dog-men climbed a bookshelf and tore apart an ancient manuscript, while the other hopped over to one of the vases and smashed it.
The party decided that this was a Bad Thing.
Unfortunately, not only were the creatures running amok, but the whole party felt clumsy, as if their weapons were slippery and their feet were leaden. Undaunted, the Red Sash grabbed the first creature, making it squeal in anger. It started cursing at the party in a language none of them understood, but the Red Sash held it fast. Tussle, being a gnome, just pulled out his pistol and shot the other one right in the chest.
Lance was appalled. How could these cute little creatures possibly mean any harm? And what was Tussle thinking, shooting one of them? Lance channeled to heal the poor little guy. The gutteral, angry noises coming out of it sure didn't sound like thanks, but Lance was sure it was grateful. Xondra carefully studied the creatures, and realized that they were nothing more than summoned guardians bent on destroying all the valuables in the room. And it made perfect sense for a resident of the kingdom of Wrath: Don't turn the thieves over to the authorities! Cause more damage to them than they caused to you!
Moira, still next to the box after Lance's unexpected unveiling, decided that the box's contents were probably far more interesting than the little gremlins on the outside, so she peered into the box. There were three gemstones, a dagger, and a ring. She chose to take the ring.
The creatures continued their mayhem. The one that the Red Sash was holding pulled out a tiny dagger and stabbed at him, but the puny weapon bounced off his armor. The one on the bookcase found a way to kill two birds with one stone, picked up a massive vase (at least massive for its tiny size), and hurled it at Tussle. Amid cries of, "Catch it! Catch it!", Tussle used his gunslinger's instincts to dive to the side and avoid the falling vase, and it smashed "harmlessly" on the floor. The Red Sash pinned his to the floor, and called to Moira to come over and finish it off. Tussle fired again, but had obviously been distracted by the vase and put a small hole in the wood-paneled wall. Fortunately, he wasn't using explosive bullets so the tiny bullet hole could probably be easily hidden behind a picture or a vase. Xondra hexed the free gremlin, but even this wasn't enough to let Lance get a hand on it, and instead he knocked another ancient manuscript to the floor, hearing its spine tear and its pages disintegrate as it fluttered helplessly down. Moira ran over to try to stab the gremlin struggling in the Red Sash's grasp, but managed nothing more than to put a large gouge in the floor.
Had the gremlins left well enough alone, they might have been able to continue their mayhem. But the free gremlin, seeing its brother's plight, pulled out a dagger and swung at Lance Sterling. Tussle shot it, and Lance had finally had enough, pulled out his greataxe, and laid it low. Moira was going to kill the other one, but Xondra insisted that they let it live so the Lady Heidmarch and Pathfinder Azmeren could see the evidence. Xondra had been burned by being set up one too many times.
The Lady and the Pathfinder hurried in, drawn by the noise, and Pathfinder Azmeren quickly dispatched the gremlin with a clean thrust of her bastard sword. The Lady dismissed the damage to the room as reparable, and her own fault for not expecting such a trap. She thanked the party for their diligence and thanked Pathfinder Azmeren for assisting. Pathfinder Azmeren congratulated the party on their first victory and wished them luck in their endeavors; she remembered what it had been like getting started, and it looked like the party was getting off on the right foot.
Once Pathfinder Azmeren had departed, the Lady Heidmarch started in on why she'd brought them in in the first place. The Pathfinders had been making inroads with the Sczarni, forging alliances in the hopes of using the Sczarni's vast information networks to locate more artifacts. Although the Sczarni's methods weren't exactly kosher, they did tend to avoid violence, and were even helpful in helping police the poorer districts of Magnimar. However, since teaming up with criminals is always frought with peril, the Lady was ecstatic when Natalya Venkaskerkin, a Sczarni cat burglar, offered to be a double agent for the Pathfinders. Natalya told the Lady that her gang was on the verge of finding an item of "great interest to the Pathfinders"… and then vanished.
Lady Heidmarch's request of the party was simple: Find the "item of great interest" and be rewarded 500 gold pieces. Bring back Natalya alive, and the reward would be doubled. As for the items in the puzzle box, the party could consider those a down payment on future explorations.
Tussle asked whether he could be reimbursed for the bullets he'd fired. The Lady agreed. Unfortunately, Tussle did the math wrong in his head and only asked for half as much as he'd spent. Ah, gnomes!
Finally, the Lady Heidmarch provided all the information she knew about Natalya: She had contacted the Pathfinders through a middleman from Washer's Row named the Amazing Zograthy. Rumor around town was that the Sczarni were looking for Natalya as well. There were also rumors that Nidelese slavers were working the poorer districts in town, and she might have been abducted. Or, being a Sczarni, she might have simply been arrested by the town guard and taken to the Arvensoar.
Since they would be dealing with the criminal underground, the party members needed to keep a low profile, as the lowlifes and scumbags they were likely to encounter would be less-than-thrilled to talk to the authorities, or even the Pathfinder Society. Lady Heidmarch knew that the six major Sczarni gangs in the city were the Creepers, Doohan's Lads, the Gallowed, the Tower Girls, the Washside Wringers, and the Wreckwash Blades, with the Gallowed being the most powerful Sczarni gang in the city, though not the most powerful crime organization.
As the Lady took her leave, Xondra asked Moira about the ring, as she'd seen her take it. Moira insisted that she was going to show it to the party, but she'd just wanted to lay claim to it first to make sure it didn't get taken away from her. Xondra examined it, and it was a Ring of Feather Fall. Moira insisted on keeping it and no one argued, though Lance mysteriously said, "That's one."
The group decided that they would liquidate the rest of the items at their earliest convenience and split the funds, but for the moment, they decided they needed to find the Amazing Zograthy. Fortunately, Xondra knew of him, and offered to lead the way.
Unfortunately, the Red Sash had been expecting the visit to Heidmarch Villa to be a more formal affair, and hence hadn't brought his weapons with him. So first there was a long detour back to Serpent's Run to pick up his things, then walking all the way down through Dockway to Beacon's Point and Washer's Row. They made a brief stop at the Bazaar of Sails to convert the gems into gold and distribute it, thought briefly about buying shiny rocks to try to trick Zograthy, but finally thought better of it and moved on. As the party gaped in wonder at the depressing carnival games, worn prizes, bored carnies, and even-more-bored patrons, Tussle spotted a game where he could throw rocks at stuffed goblins to win a "toy sword" that looked more like two pieces of scrap wood held together by a cheap (probably used) nail. He HAD to have one. "How much?"
"A copper for three throws."
Tussle bought thirty throws and started hurling. On his third throw he hit a goblin. The carnie handed him his sword with a curt, "No refunds."
As Tussle was obtaining his treasure, the rest of the party approached the Amazing Zograthy's patched and worn tent. Xondra and Moira went in, while Lance Sterling and the Red Sash stood guard outside. The Amazing Zograthy was an aged, bald, Varisian man with threadbare purple robes and piercing eyes. Both Moira and Xondra immediately recognized him as a pesh addict. He went through an entire spiel about telling fortunes, and Xondra responded that they only wanted information. He dropped the act and asked for 50 gold pieces, but Xondra got him to drop it to 35.
He knew that many were disappearing, but they were the poor, the destitute, and the Varisian, and the city was doing nothing about it. He was sure the rumor of Nidalese slavers was false, but the Sczarni were very interested in finding out what was really happening. As Xondra and Moira stood to take their leave, he gestured for one more coin from Xondra.
"Sister, you should never have left us, but for this coin you will be my sister again for a moment."
Moira's eyes widened in surprise at this revelation about Xondra.
For Xondra, the Amazing Zograthy indicated that Natalya Venkaskerkin ran with the Tower Girls, but now they are searching for her as well.
So it was time to find the Tower Girls, but they had no idea where to look.
With no better ideas, they decided to find out more about the Nidalese slavers. It took almost no time at all to learn of a rumor that they would be having a meeting that very night at midnight at the Puffed Pelican, an abandoned tavern in Dockway. Since it was already late in the afternoon, they hiked over to Lowcleft, had dinner at an unassuming (for Lowcleft) tavern, Lance bought 10 gold pieces of food for the party so there were ridiculous amounts of leftovers, Moira prepared a couple of alchemical extracts, and the party headed for Dockway.
The group arrived at the Puffy Pelican at roughly 10:00 pm, and were worried they might be noticed snooping around the place, so Moira started banging on a pot (quite musically, astonishingly enough) and the Red Sash started dancing to the rhythm. Because a street performance at ten at night beside a boarded-up tavern is not suspicious at all. Amazingly enough, it took until around 10:30 pm for someone to threaten to call the town guard if they didn't shut up. During that time, Xondra and Tussle explored around the building and found no obvious entrance (all the doors and windows were boarded up), no sign of current activity, and no sign of previous activity. After their performance was forcibly halted, the Red Sash and Moira joined them, as did Lance (who'd been standing in the shadows watching the performance the whole time).
As they discussed how to get in without being obvious, the Red Sash stepped up and simply ripped the boarded door open. Inside, the dust on the floor indicated that no one had been in the building in quite a while. The group was starting to get more and more suspicious of the rumor. They went in, searched the building, found nothing of note, and decided to lay in wait. Moira re-boarded the door as best she could from the inside (not an easy task), and the party hid. The Red Sash, accustomed to hiding in shadows from his childhood, helped everyone. Seeing Lance attempting to hide, he simply put Lance behind a crate at the far end of the tavern from the back entrance.
At 11:00 pm, someone pried the door open. Amazingly, they did not notice it had been tampered with. Even more amazingly, they did not notice the footsteps on the floor, nor the party lying in wait. By the light of his lantern, the party could see a thin man with a weak chin and a ratty, self-inflicted haircut. He re-closed the door, cast a spell (though Xondra could not tell the rest of the group, she recognized it as Mage Armor), and moved to hide… exactly where Xondra was hiding! The jig was up!
As Xondra and the man stood gaping at one another in surprise, Moira called out, "His name is Plutivarch Dremis! He's a powerful sorcerer, and he's wanted by the guard! There's a reward for him!"
Plutivarch's eyes grew big. Tussle, right behind him, tried to shoot him in the back but his gun jammed. The Red Sash tried to intimidate him into surrendering and moved towards him, but he did not seem inclined to surrender. Xondra started casting something. Deciding that Xondra was the least of his worries, he spun and cast a Color Spray at Tussle and the Red Sash. It didn't work. Lance Sterling came from behind his box to see whether the man would listen to reason. It didn't seem likely that he would. The Red Sash moved up to hit him but he tried to stab at the Red Sash as he moved by. Unfortunately, his blow careened off the Red Sash's armor and he hit himself in the side of the head, temporarily deafening himself. Fortunately his Mage Armor deflected the Red Sash's blow, but suddenly three tiny bats appeared and started biting him; Xondra had summoned bats! She hexed him for good measure. Moira tried to add a crossbow bolt but missed. Plutivarch tried to cast a spell, but the bats were obviously too distracting and it failed. Obviously outmatched, Plutivarch ran for the door. Tussle unjammed his gun, fired, and drew more blood, and Lance moved over and blocked the door. Infuriated, Plutivarch fired two Magic Missiles directly in Lance Sterling's face for near-maximum damage.
But he was STILL STANDING.
Lance, tired of the whole thing, pulled out his greataxe and decked Plutivarch.
The party tied him up and got ready to question him. Lance offered to channel to wake him up sooner, but since he'd be awake in an hour anyway, they decided to wait. Once he was awake, the party kept him gagged as they made various threats as to his body parts and his personage. By the time Lance removed the gag Plutivarch was ready to spill his guts. Unfortunately, the information that spewed forth was not particularly useful. Plutivarch had been rejected by both the Pathfinders and their arch-rivals the Aspis Consortium (for reasons that became obvious once Plutivarch started blithering), so he had concocted a "brilliant" scheme to spread rumors about Nidalese slavers to lure Pathfinders to the Puffy Pelican, and then he would take them down and deliver them to the Aspis Consortium.
The biggest question the party had was whether he was under orders from the Aspis Consortium. In spite of his repeated insistence that no, he'd come up with the plan on his own, the party decided to be wary. Lance slung Plutivarch over his shoulder and they started the long walk towards the Arvensoar.
However, walking the streets of Dockway shortly after midnight with a trussed-up man over your shoulder while rumors of disappearances are plaguing the city was not the wisest of choices; the party barely made it 200 yards before they were stopped by a pair of guards. Moira quickly explained that Plutivarch was a wanted man, the guards checked their list, verified the party's story, and quickly brought in an escort to ensure the party would not encounter further issues with other city guards (or other untoward sorts).
On reaching the Arvensoar, the guard took Plutivarch off their hands, paid them their reward money (20 gold each), and had them wait a few minutes before leading them up to meet Captain Kasadei, head of the night watch. She thanked them for capturing Plutivarch, and asked how they happened to find him in the first place. On learning that they were investigating the missing persons cases, she could provide them with more information: Even though people were disappearing with some regularity, they were also re-appearing one or two weeks after disappearing. They were always found, muddled and confused, living in squalor near Rag's End or Underbridge, with no memory of what had happened to them. Thus, the city considered those cases "Closed", even though Captain Kasadei herself was still very interested in finding the perpetrators. Her investigation was being conducted on the "down low", to prevent the criminals from hiding their activity even more effectively.
Lance asked the obvious question: Why hadn't they used a Heal spell to restore the memories of one of the abductees. Kasadei reluctantly admitted that Mayor Groboras had so far been unwilling to release the funds necessary to pay for such a procedure, and no one in the guard had that kind of money, and since the victims were all vagabonds, vagrants, or Varisians, no one had come forward to volunteer either the money or the casting. Such was life in Magnimar.
The party moved on to other topics, asking about Natalya Venkaskerkin. Captain Kasadei knew her name, and knew that she ran with the Tower Girls, but also knew that the guard hadn't picked her up for anything. Her disappearance hadn't been reported to the guard, but this was no surprise, as the Sczarni tended to take care of their own problems. As for the Tower Girls themselves, they were having problems of their own: They had been staying in the same territory as the Wreckwash Blades, but some kind of falling-out had occurred and they'd moved to Underbridge, living in the warehouse of a known "fix it" man named Fenster the Blight. That was a couple of weeks ago, but Fenster might know where they'd gone, and Kasadei knew where Fenster was, and provided them his address in Underbridge. Once again, Xondra knew of Fenster, and shuddered at the thought of having to meet him in person.
By then it was well after 2:00 am, so the party descended to Lowcleft and checked in to the first decent-looking inn they could find. With their newfound wealth, Xondra, Lance, and Tussle all rented private rooms that included hot baths. The Red Sash and Moira, more cognizant of the fickle nature of fortune, shared a single room.
In the late morning the party regrouped and headed to Fenster the Blight's. His "home" was a half-collapsed warehouse, inside of which was a makeshift shelter constructed almost entirely of rowboats. A crudely-drawn sign read, "LEEV A GIFT AND WATE OUTSIDE", so the party dropped a single gold piece into the pan and stepped out. They heard Fenster emerge from his lair, examine the single coin, start cursing, and call out, "This isn't enough!"
Once he'd scurried back into his rowboats, Lance added a second gold piece, Xondra ten more, and then Moira added a heaping pile of silver.
This time, Fenster was overjoyed, and called out to the party, asking what they wanted him to do. Entering the building, Fenster was a hideous, disease-ridden, rag-wearing, one-eyed abomination of a man. The notion that the Tower Girls could have been his "roommates" for even a day seemed unthinkable. Nevertheless, the party decided to be polite. They asked about the Tower Girls, and Fenster confirmed that he was their landlord, though they hadn't returned in several days. But, "They'll be back… they always come back ta ol' Fenster!"
Several party members may have shuddered at that moment, but not enough for Fenster to notice.
During his ramblings, the party learned that Fenster believed that the kidnappings were being performed by white-eyed "blue dwarfies", and they'd tried to take him as well, but he'd cut off one of their arms and they'd fled. The party asked where the arm was. Then, looking him over, Lance asked, "You ate it, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Tasted bad."
With no evidence of the "blue dwarfies" to investigate, the party asked about Natalya. He said he knew where she was, but it would cost them double what they'd put down before! The party eyed each other, noting that he hadn't seemed to distinguish between any of the coins they'd provided him, so every last copper and silver piece they had went into Fenster's bowl. Fenster was delighted.
He admitted that he'd seen her lurking about in a nearby building with some "green dwarfies" (because apparently everything was a dwarfie to Fenster), but she no longer hung out with the Tower Girls. She was working very hard to stay unnoticed, but, "Nuthin' in th'Shadow gits by me good peeper!"
With directions to Natalya's presumed hideout, the party moved towards it.