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Nov 28, 2007

Cold Blood: Session 5

By the time they reached the Butcher’s Block, Haden had already disposed of his recently acquired belongings, passing out good-sized portions of coin to each of his companions with an ironic flourish. He tossed a dagger in the air and caught it by the blade, offering it to Talan. “I thought you might have a use for this,” he explained.

“It is a fine dagger,” Talan said, accepting it and sheathing it on his belt next to his existing dagger.

The Block was packed with people, Derioch only barely visible in the corner with her usual posse. Sheen shoved her way through the crowd to deposit the heavy drunk on a chair.

“What in Pandemonium’s name happened to you lot?”

Haden opened his mouth to speak but Sheen cut in hastily with: “We found your killer.”

“Really? You scragged him?”

“He’s dead, if that’s what you mean,” Sheen responded.

“Actually, I meant ‘caught’, but scribing him in the dead book is even better. This him? He don’t look like a blooded killer,” Derioch said, examining the apparent corpse.

Haden shot Sheen a dirty look. “Let’s get a private room or something,” he said, nearly shouting to be heard over the noise of the crowd.

Sheen shrugged. “I suppose. We’ve probably started a new conspiracy theory just by showing up here. Someone else can carry this guy, though, I don’t think my back will take any more.”

Derioch gestured for one of her bashers to shoulder the burden and they began working their way toward the exit. “You didn’t leave a mark on him,” Derioch said thoughtfully. “Serves ‘im right, getting a taste of his own medicine!”

“Oh, this isn’t the killer,” Haden said. “This would have been the latest victim. He’s not dead, although he looks like it. We left the killer for the Collectors, too much trouble to bring him along.”

Derioch frowned and yelled something to another of her cronies, who forced his way out the door and vanished into the darkness. Haden stepped into the clear space left by the basher.

“If you would excuse me for a moment,” he said, and hurried off into the crowd. He found the owner of the Butcher’s Block, a massive, scarred ogre. “I beg your pardon, my good ogre, but I was hoping I could ask you a few questions,” Haden said, flipping the creature a gold coin.

“I be never too busy for a bit o’ gab. Whatcha need?”

“A . . . ah . . . friend of mine recently died, and I believe he was keeping some things here. Could I collect his personal effects?”

“I be sorry to ‘ear that. What be ‘is name?”

Haden made a little moue of embarrassment. “Well, he liked to call himself the Shadowknave. Conceited, I know, but what can you do?”

“Half-elf berk, black armor? Yeah, I knows ‘im.” Trunfeld Three-teeth rooted around in the unspeakable depths of his apron for a while, coming up with a crude key. “Here ye go.”

“Thank you,” Haden said. His search of the room proved fruitless, however. It had been inhabited, clearly, but not really lived in. Whatever belongings the men had, they’d taken with them. Grumbling, Haden hurried to catch up with his companions.

Sheen glared after Haden’s retreating back. “Typical. Let’s get out of here.” They crowded out through the door and gasped a bit in the cooler and calmer air of the street. Instead of stopping, Derioch led the way to the Gatehouse, an ugly gray structure studded with ranks of narrow barred windows. The entrance hall was abandoned, but it seemed full of the miserable rantings of the Gatehouse inhabitants, vaguely audible even through thick stone walls.

“So,” Derioch announced. “This fellow isn’t dead?”

“He’s under a spell that simulates death,” Joris explained.

“There’s a good chance that all of them were under such a spell.”

“Find Bendon,” Derioch ordered without looking around, and yet another of her men hurried away.

“Who is Bendon?” Sheen asked.

Derioch rubbed her temples with her fingertips as though fighting off headache. “Bleaker wizard. Might be able to dispel this . . . enchantment.” She paused, then exploded: “Who would do something like this?! Hells, WHY would anyone do something like this?”

“Is this the first time anyone has wondered whether the victims were actually dead?” Talan asked.

“Well, sure. They looked plenty dead, and we figured those piking Dusties would piking check!”

“How long does the spell normally last, Joris?” Sheen asked.

“Not more than a couple of hours.” Haden sauntered in, smiling innocently. Joris blinked at him. “Did you find anything?”

“Sadly, very little. Our friends did have a room at the Butcher’s Block, but there didnt’ seem to be anything to find.”

“Toranna told us most unclaimed bodies are incinerated,” Talan said. “Most barmies are probably not claimed.”

“Bubbers neither,” Derioch said.

“It’s a novel method of feeding the fire, I grant you,” Haden said, his voice amused.

“That is disgusting,” Sheen said angrily. Haden simply grinned. Derioch’s minion returned, followed by a sleepy-looking tiefling with coal-black eyes and pointed ears.

“Evening,” the tiefling said, yawning a bit. Then he perked up, his ears pricking. “Heya, Haden!”

“Hello to you, Bendon. I see you still have all your pieces attached, well done.”

“Hey, any luck with that . . . er . . . thing we talked about?” Bendon asked excitedly.

“In a sense. Not good luck, mind you,” Haden said smoothly. “But let’s talk about that a bit later, hmm?”

“Right,” Derioch said. “I didn’t get you out of bed so you could chat with old friends.”

“What ‘thing’?” Sheen demanded of Haden quietly behind Derioch’s back. Haden shooed her away.

Bendon looked at Derioch, ignoring Sheen. “Oh? What did you want, then?”

Derioch began explaining as Sheen reached out and grabbed the front of Haden’s tastefully black shirt, hauling down with surprising strength until his face was only a few inches away from hers. “What is this ‘thing’?” All eyes in the room swiveled towards her.

“Relax,” Haden said quietly. “It’s nothing to concern yourself with.”

“You know, I think she’s beginning to like him,” Talan murmured to Joris. Joris tried and failed to stifle a laugh.

“If it’s ‘nothing’, then you can explain it,” Sheen hissed.

Haden smiled disarmingly. “Let’s just say I had some interest in finding Eliath as well, all right? But it doesn’t matter now, so let’s move on.” He patted Sheen on the cheek and tweaked her nose. She recoiled, releasing her grip on his shirt. “We have more important matters to discuss right now,” Haden finished.

“You’d better not hold out on us any more,” Sheen snapped.

“Of course not, of course not.”

Bendon fixed a stony glare on Haden.

“Don’t be like that, friend, would you argue with her? I think not. Now then, Derioch, you were saying?”

“This berk’s under some sort of spell that makes him look dead,” Derioch said, recovering her momentum.

“Let me try dispelling it,” Bendon said, and began waving his hands and chanting. The corpse drew a ragged breath, coughed, and promptly rolled over and went to sleep.

“It’s an improvement over dead, I suppose,” Haden joked after a moment of silence.

Bendon shrugged. “He won’t be the first one to sleep it off in the Gatehouse.” The door banged open as another one of Derioch’s men rejoined them, relating quietly to his boss how he’d found Mourner Tom collecting the bodies in the alley. A smile crossed Derioch’s face, and for once, the effect wasn’t completely horrifying.

“Thanks, cutters.”

“Our pleasure,” Haden replied.

“But what if there was more than one killer?” Bendon asked.

“Then we’d have more deaders, you berk,” Derioch informed him pointedly.

“Well, I’m not sure that ‘killer’ is the right term,” Talan said.

“He’s a killer as much as a poisoner. He knew what would happen to them,” Sheen said decisively.

“The question is why,” Talan said.

“That’s what we’ll find out tomorrow. I don’t think we’ve done so badly for one day,” Sheen replied.

Bendon shrugged, yawning, and started back down the hall. Derioch surveyed the group. “It is awfully late. You’re welcome to make your kip here if you like. Though I wouldn’t blame you if you turn me down.”

“We should probably go back to Chirper’s,” Sheen said. “We might lose our rooms if we don’t show.”

“Yeah, thanks for the offer, but I agree with Sheen on this one,” Talan affirmed.

“Chirper’s?” Haden asked. “That’s a decent establishment. Have room for one more?”

Sheen raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have your own, um, kip?”

“I like to keep my options open,” Haden answered.

“Sure, come with us,” Talan said. “Maybe you can tell us more about your association with Bendon.”

“I know Derioch said she’s seen you together before,” Joris said. Derioch nodded.

“We can talk about it over some wine, what do you say, Haden?” Talan said. Haden started to glare at the half elf, then caught himself and turned it into a pleasant smile. The smile looked a bit strained.

“Of course,” Haden said in a strangled voice. Sheen’s expression was amused.

They took a cab back to Chirper’s, a narrow cart-like conveyance drawn by a creature that resembled a horse except for the tentacles protruding from its shoulders. Joris fell asleep, his head bouncing as the cart jolted over cobbles. Sheen had to prod him vigorously to wake him when they arrived at the inn. When they entered a bariaur in a waistcoat held up his hand to forestall them.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’ve had to reassign you all to one room.” Sheen blinked and Talan scowled. “Visiting dignitaries from Oerth have crowded us terribly. We’ll arrange a complimentary dinner for your trouble.”

“What’s an Oerth?” Sheen asked suspiciously.

“One of the Prime worlds. Practically next door to yours, as you measure such things.”

Sheen chewed her lip for a moment. “Fine. One room it is. I’m too tired to care.”

The bariuar smiled. “Thank you for understanding. It should just be for the one night.”

“One night,” Talan said decisively. “That’s it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sheen trudged up the stairs, assisting Joris, who was nearly asleep on his feet. Haden grinned at Talan as they followed. “This should be interesting.”

Joris flung himself down on a bed and went instantly to sleep, not even bothering to take off his armor. He didn’t seem to notice the scale mail pinching him. Sheen racked her weapons in the room, which was small but had four beds, at least. She turned her back, trying to ignore the men, as she began pulling her chainmail shirt off over her head. Like all good armor, it fit her body quite closely and was difficult to get into and out of, involving a great deal of undignified wriggling. Haden leaned against the wall.

“Do you need some help?”

Sheen turned around awkwardly, her arms stuck straight up and the chainmail over the bridge of her nose. Haden gave her an exaggerated leer and winked. “Are you in urgent need of making a sword part of your personal anatomy?”

“I was just offering,” Haden said, holding up his hands in a pacifying gesture.

“I thought not,” Sheen replied and resumed her struggles, finally hanging the shirt over the headboard. Then she climbed into the bed and pulled the covers over her head with a muffled: “Ass.”

“Let’s get that wine,” Talan said. “I could probably talk the bariaur into bringing us some.”

Haden shook his head. “Let’s go down to the common room instead.”

“Sounds good to me. Sheen, you want to come?”

“No!” Sheen announced, still muffled. Talan laughed.

“Looks like it’s just you and me, Haden.”

“Just us gentlemen,” Haden said, grinning. He wound up and smacked Sheen on the butt, then ducked out the door, laughing. Sheen’s angry screech followed them down the stairs.

“I’m not sure how long there’s going to be an ‘us’,” Talan said, shaking his head.

“Oh, come now, Talan, she’s not as fierce as she appears. Besides, she could stand to loosen up a bit.”

“True, but your antics will just wind her up tighter.”

Haden secured a table in the crowded common room through sheer force of personality and ordered a bottle of wine. He glanced around the room and suddenly blinked at the lights, his expression becoming almost pained for a moment. Then he caught the waiter just as the halfling was leaving and engaged in a long whispered conversation. Then Haden sat back, relaxing in the chair.

“So what was it you wanted to know about me?” he asked Talan.

“Why do you care whether Sheen loosens up, for one?”

“Because it amuses me. And, really, I have no other reason to do anything at all. So, I might as well enjoy myself.”

“That’s interesting,” Talan said, “Because you said the same thing when we first met, and now it turns out you had some ulterior interest in Eliath after all.”

Haden waved dismissively. “Oh. That. Bendon heard that Eliath might know the location of some treasure, so he was, shall we say, most interested in discovering the veracity of this rumor. He asked me to look into it because I’m a bit more free to move around. You see? Nothing sinister at all.”

The halfling reappeared and placed a bottle of wine and two glasses on the table, followed by a small saucer of powder, an alcohol burner, and a silver spoon. Haden lit the burner and spooned up the powder, holding it over the flame until it melted into a milky white fluid. Then he cupped his hand over the spoon and inhaled deeply of the thick vapor. Very slowly, his posture became more relaxed and he flopped loosely backwards into the chair, sighing in pleasure. His pupils dilated and his expression slackened.

Talan drew the cork from the bottle and filled the wine glasses, not really sure what to make of Haden’s behavior. Haden tossed down the glass of wine in one swallow, poured another, and slammed it back as well.

“Better,” he said, his voice already beginning to slur. Talan sipped his wine slowly.

“Are you doing okay? Anything else you’d like to order?” the half-elf asked, mystified.

“Maybe later.”

“So how do you know Bendon?”

“Oh, he’sh jusht a friend. I have lotsh of friendsh.”

“Apparently. Any others we might encounter or want to know about?”

Haden shrugged, the motion exaggerated. “Moshtly Bleakersh and Shenshates. Nobody important.” He polished off another glass and gestured for the waiter to bring another bottle. “People with too much time on their handsh, you know.”

“And what do you think of my friends and me? Are we keeping you amused?”

“Oh, you guysh are great.” Haden leaned forward conspiratorially. “I think those other people jusht like my money, you know? They’ve got no ushe for me when I’m not entertaining. They look down on me ‘caushe I’m a freak, you know.”

“Um, I’m not sure I do know.”

Haden laughed, too loudly. “Thash right, you’re Clu-Clulessh. You don’t know . . . nothin’.”

“We do appreciate your help and knowledge of the area. That’s why I like talking to you,” Talan said. “So, you see, you’re right that we’re not like your other friends.” The halfling waiter appeared with another bottle and Haden promptly filled his glass again. “Maybe you should slow down a little. Want some food?”

“No,” Haden said, enunciating the word very clearly. “I don’ wanna take the edge off. No food.”

“Maybe I should take you upstairs. We can take a couple of bottles with us,” Talan said. “We could make a lot of noise and wake Sheen up, maybe.”

Haden smiled blearily. “No thanksh, you’re not that cute.” Talan choked, laughing.

“Well, you’re not my type, either, but I’d like to make sure you make it to a bed, anyway.”

“Nah. Beshidesh, I was jus’ about to elushi . . .illummm . . . tell you shtuff. You gotsh to learn your way ‘round fasht here, otherwishe you get KILLED.”

“Killed? What, like the barmies?”


“Killed by whom, exactly? Anyone you know?”

“Nah, there’sh jusht lotsh of people here, from all shortsh of planesh. Take my mother for inshtance. And I mean that, I don’t wan’ her no more. You can have her. She’sh a half fiend. She’ll kill you ash shoon ash look at you, sho you have to be careful.”

“And your father?”

“Nah, my father’sh nice, but hish mind wandersh. Kind of like mine right now, wander, wander, wander. Ha ha. He’sh half celeshtial, that’sh why I’m so funny-lookin’.” Haden wavered for a moment in the seat, then abruptly fell over onto the floor, spilling the remains of his glass of wine. The staff converged instantly to clean up the mess.

“Thersh gum stuck under thish table,” Haden muttered. “Talan, could you help me get up pleashe? My legsh don’t sheem to be working.”

Talan shook his head, disgusted, then bent down and hauled Haden to his feet. “Look, you can stay down here if you want, but I’m going back to the room. If you come quietly, I’ll help you.”

Haden threw his arms around Talan. “You’re my besht friend EVER. Yeah, let’sh go. To the room!”

With a great deal of effort and stumbling, Talan hauled the drunken Haden up the stairs, doing his best to ignore the frequent exclamations of “you’re my besht friend” and “what a nice guy”. Talan dumped him face down on an empty bed, where Haden promptly began snoring.

“Good grief,” Talan grumbled. His next memory was of a loud knock at the door and the sound of Sheen scrambling across the floor to answer it.

“Yes? Who is it?”

“It’s Thea!”

Sheen opened the door. “Oh, hello, Thea! I was about to go looking for you!” The young cleric was gasping for breath, like she ran all the way. “Are you all right?” Thea burst into the room and threw herself down on Sheen’s bed.

“Did you find Eliath?”

“Well, in a sense. From what we could determine, he’s . . . deceased.” Sheen said awkwardly.

“What?” Thea asked, her brow furrowing in perplexity. “Then what’s he doing in the Lower Ward?”

“What?!” Sheen yelled. “Why, that lying witch!” Haden rolled over and groaned.

“Gods, woman, not so loud! What kind of time do you call this anyway!” he bellowed. “Ow.” He flopped out of the bed and staggered across the room, holding his head between his hands as though he feared it might split apart.

Thea said, watching Haden with a curious expression on her face. “One of the other Sensates said that he saw him at the Black Sail last night.”

“Oh, good, so he’s not dead. On the plus side, we found out who was killing people in the Hive. So it wasn’t entirely wasted effort.”

“Hi, I’m Thea!” Thea chirped at Haden, ignoring Sheen.

“Not now, woman,” Haden growled.

“He’s had a rough night, Thea, you might want to give him some space,” Talan said, sitting up.

“Ow,” Haden remarked again. He leaned over the basin on the night table and poured the pitcher of water over his head.

“Sorry,” Thea said.

“How well do you trust this Sensate?” Talan asked. “How close of a look did they get?”

“Well, I doubt Tavis had any reason to lie, but all he had to go on was the description we have. He said it was pretty dark, but he seemed real sure it was Eliath. But he said Eliath was wearing Doomguard colors.”

“Doomguard?” Talan asked. Haden combed back his wet hair carefully and sat down gingerly on the bed.

“They believe that entropy is the natural state of the universe,” Thea explained.

“And they enlist crazy people?” Sheen asked.

“Well, I think they’re all a bit barmy, but not your street-raving barmy.”

“This just gets stranger and stranger,” Sheen said. “We’ll look into it. Maybe this is all connected somehow. Thank you for coming by to tell us.”

“Sure. There’s an outbreak of Abyssal pox I have to go deal with, but I’ll catch up later.”

“Anything more you’d like to ask, Talan?”

“Not at this time, anyway,” he said. “How about you, Haden? Any questions for Thea about Eliath?” Haden just groaned in response.

Sheen stood and opened the door for Thea. “We’ll see you tomorrow, probably.”

Thea waved at Haden. “It was nice meeting you!” she said and departed. Joris sat up, blinking.

“Was that Thea?”

“Yeah,” Talan said. “You just missed her.”

With the door firmly closed behind the cleric, Sheen rounded on Haden. “What the hell is wrong with you?! I’ve never been so embarrassed . . . what did you DO last night?!” Haden cringed, shrinking away from her wrath. Getting no response, Sheen turned to Talan. “What were you thinking, letting him get like this?!” Joris shrank away from her as well, pulling the blanket up to his chin.

“Oh, go easy on him, he had a lot to drink and some other stuff, too. I was hoping he’d be a little more forthcoming if he relaxed,” Talan said.

“That’s right,” Haden said. “It’s his fault. I have no self control.”

“Did that actually work?” Sheen asked.

“Well, not as well as I’d hoped. Little did I realize that he drinks like a fish.”

“Oh, well, like that’s surprising, considering he’s CLEARLY a dissolute bum!” Sheen spat.

“Hey,” Haden protested weakly. “I resemble that remark.”

“Now, hold on a moment . . .” Joris began tentatively.

“What, you have something to say?! Well, spit it out!” Joris stammered and shrank back again.

“Don’t mind her, Joris, you know how she is. What did you want to say?”

Sheen sat down on her bed and pulled her legs up, pressing her face against her knees and wrapping her arms around her head. Joris stared at her, then very carefully got out of bed.

“Er, Sheen? Are you okay?” Talan asked, dumbfounded. He realized after a moment that she was crying and trying to hide it.

“I’m FINE.”

Joris started to reach out towards her, then stopped, looking at Talan helplessly. The half-elf cleared his throat. “Come on, you know we think nothing but the best of you.” Haden heaved himself to his feet and offered her his handkerchief tentatively.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sounding very humble.

“Bright Lady, I’d be dead twice over if it weren’t for you,” Joris said quietly.

Sheen raised her head a bit and looked at the handkerchief for a while. Then, sighing, she took it and scrubbed at her face. “No, it’s not . . . I’m all right. I’m all right. I’m sorry.”

“Do you, um, want a hug or something?” Joris asked. Sheen managed a watery chuckle and wrapped an arm around his waist. He patted her back awkwardly.

“I’m sorry, I feel like a . . . a sack, that’s had more and more things forced into it until . . . boom,” she explained.

“I really am sorry,” Haden said. Sheen waggled a finger at him.

“Don’t do it again.”

“I’ll try to behave,” Haden said. He grinned a bit, lopsidedly. “Well, mostly.”

“Maybe we can all take some time off when this business is done,” Joris said.

“I don’t really want time off. I want to work . . . real work. It’d be nice to stand at a forge again. Oh, let’s get some breakfast and decide what to do next.”

The wait staff brought them breakfast in their room: fresh grapes, fruitbread, lime jam and sheep’s milk with vanilla. While they ate, Sheen ventured, “We have those kids keeping an eye on Toranna. Let’s go check out the Lower Ward and see if we can find this Eliath look-alike.”

“Sounds good to me,” Talan said agreeably. They packed up and went looking for the Black Sail. The Lower Ward proved to be less squalid than the Hive, but it was dark and grim, the buildings covered with soot. Great furnaces and foundries belched smoke around the clock. Sheen looked around like a child on a vacation.

“Isn’t it lovely?” She said rhetorically.

“Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder,” Joris said, shaking his head. He watched as Sheen pressed her face to a dirty window, looking into a shop.

“Ooo,” she breathed.

“Would you like to go in?” Talan asked, pulling her away from the window and wiping soot off her nose.

“I don’t want to slow us down . . .”

“Oh, go on,” Talan said, smiling indulgently. Sheen darted into the shop and began examining the intricate clockworks on shelves and display stands. One of the devices suddenly squeaked and leaped off the shelf, she caught it awkwardly. A voice behind her chuckled and she looked up to see the proprietor, a tall, dark man wearing a pristine apron over a very correct suit.

“I’m sorry it . . . jumped.”

“You startled it,” he said, taking it out of her hands. It cheeped in protest.

“It’s alive?”

“In a sense. It’s from Mechanus, a gift from a modron. I’m going to study it and learn more about how they build their mechanisms.”

“You won’t hurt it?”

“No, no, of course not. I know better than that.”

“Humans don’t always have a lot of respect for mechanisms,” Sheen said irritably.

“You’re lecturing me on humanity?”

“Sorry. I was trained by dwarves, their attitudes rubbed off a bit.”

“Really? Are you a smith?”

“Some, I guess.”

The man chuckled. “Well, I just might have a proposition for you . . .” Haden rapped sharply on the window and waved for Sheen to hurry up.

“I have to go,” she said regretfully, reaching out to pet the little mechanical creature. It chirped and rubbed against her hand.

“Well, come back when you can, and we’ll talk,” the man said. Sheen hurried out the door. The little creature made a questioning noise. “Oh, she’ll be back, don’t worry.”

“The Black Sail is over here,” Talan said, pointing. Sheen nodded and followed him rapidly. The common room was dimly lit, with several curtained alcoves. A few sullen crafters clustered around open tables in the center of the room.

“Table for ya?” asked a bored-looking female tiefling with brown scaly skin.

“Actually, we’re here looking for someone,” Haden said. She looked him up and down.

“Well, ya found someone.” Talan smiled into his hand as Haden winked and grinned appreciatively.

“Someone in particular, I fear, although it doesn’t seem so important now. However, have you seen any Doomguard hanging about the place? One with brown skin and white hair, his name is Eliath.”

“Kinda squinty?”

Haden looked delighted, snapping his fingers. “Yes, that’s him!”

“Laying it on a little thick, aren’t we?” Sheen muttered.

“Could be worse,” Talan said.

“Hey, if it works . . .” Joris said.

“He’s over in the corner with some Sinkers, there,” the waitress said, pointing at some closed curtains. Haden palmed a gold into her palm while he kissed the back of her hand.

“You’re a wonder. Let’s go chat with him, shall we?”

“All right, but you look me up when you’re done, ‘kay?”

Haden winked again. “I’m sure I can find some time for such a lovely lady.”

“As I said,” Joris muttered. Sheen laughed and began making her way towards the indicated corner. The curtains blocked her view, but when she was within a few feet a hand emerged from inside and pushed the cloth aside. Five men in Doomguard colors sat at the table. One of them was, indeed, white-haired and squinty.

“Somethin’ we can help you with?” asked one.

“Are you Eliath, by any chance?” Sheen asked.

“Why, yes, I’m Eliath,” the white-haired man said. “Eliath Morard.”

Nov 16, 2007

Cold Blood: Session 4

Sheen glared at the enormous greatsword-wielding warrior, her eyes beginning to glow as ectoplasm rolled off her body. The basher yelled and started forward, and the battle began. Talan drew his sword and dagger, but his weapons simply scraped of the big man’s armor. The woman in priestess’ robes standing beside the big man gestured and cast a spell just as Sheen’s spear whizzed over her head. Joris’s hand emerged from behind her and grabbed the haft of her spear, causing the weapon to take on a faint glow. Then Sheen was nearly lifted from her feet as the greatsword collided with her shoulder.

Sheen staggered forward and thrust her spear into the priestess, nearly impaling the woman. She screamed and hurtled herself away, frantically casting another spell that caused her to disappear from sight.

Haden pressed himself back against the wall as five thugs charged up the alley and attacked him. He dodged one, but the other caught him a solid blow across the ribs with a longsword. He struggled to ignore the blood and the pain and skewered the man with his rapier. The other three barreled into Talan and took the half-elf down, leaving Sheen to face the big basher alone. A tense melee ensued while Joris dragged Talan out of harm’s way and cast healing over him. Haden pressed his arm against his bleeding ribs and cut another thug down.

Sheen stared, confused, as the big man abruptly lowered his greatsword and took a step back, causing a lull in the fighting. “Sharp you bloods, not are bad,” he said. “Where did you, who say you?” She held still for a moment, then relaxed her posture slightly.

“I’m sorry, but did you just ask who we are and where we’re from?” she asked, perplexed.

“Down stand you!” he said, gesturing to the other thugs, who backed away from Talan, Haden, and Joris.

“Right you’re, speech is confusing Xaositect Clueless to know I,” replied the big man. He offered Sheen a thick gauntleted hand. “Mordrigaarz Antill, Chaosman.” She nodded and accepted the hand, shaking it once briskly.

“I am known as Sheen, and these are Talan and Joris. And Haden, but he’s a local so perhaps he needs no introduction.”

Mordrigaarz cocked his head at Haden. “Him before seen I’ve think don’t I. That like face a remember I’d.”

Haden chuckled, then winced a bit as it pulled at his ribs. “Oh, come n ow, Mordrigaarz, everyone must have heard of me by now. I’m hurt.” The big man waved imperiously at the other Xaositects.

“Now Dalla find!” They disappeared down the alley.

“Hive brings afternoon what the to you fine this?”

“Haden, could you translate for us?” Talan asked cringing as he tried to follow the twisted sentence. Haden bestowed a condescending smile on the half-elf.

“Well, of course, if you need me to,” he said. Joris rolled his eyes as he reached out and healed Haden’s injuries. “It takes some more time that others to catch on, I suppose.”

“If my head didn’t feel like an eight hundred year old tree just fell on it, I might be following this a little better,” Talan grumbled.

“Frankly, I’m surprised she understands, but maybe her hardheadedness is a benefit here,” Haden added.

Sheen glared at him. “We’re here looking for a man named Eliath, he’s rumored to be a bit, ah, barmy? We’re concerned because of all the odd inexplicable deaths.”

“So are we,” Haden translated. “These are our streets, but we have to be careful. I’m sure you have been, too.”

“Right up until about five minutes ago, actually,” Sheen said. “Have you or any of your fellows seen anything odd?”

“The bodies we see have no cause of death, but we haven’t caught the killer’s scent yet.” One of the thugs came back with the priestess in tow. She was cringing behind the man, her eyes wide with fear. “I’ll deal with you later,” Mordrigaarz said.

“Why did you attack us?” Talan asked.

“Because we don’t know you. Strangers in our Hive could be the killers.”

“And here I was under the impression you were trying to mug us,” Sheen said.

“Antill here likes to fight,” Dalla explained. “I’ve tried to get him to talk first, but he’s one to leap before looking.”

“Really?” Haden said. “I’m shocked.” He smiled expansively. “If you folks can still totter, why don’t you join us all for a nice meal and a drink? We were just on our way to procure some dinner. No hard feelings and all that.”

Talan grinned. “I was just thinking that.”

“No hard feelings,” Mordrigaarz said, “but we have to continue our search. If you’re looking for a barmy, you might try the Mortuary. With all the murders. If we find something, we’ll let you know.”

“Capital of you, old chap,” Haden said. He tossed off a few spells that healed the rent in his clothing and cleaned off all traces of blood and dirt.

“I don’t suppose you could do that for the rest of us?” Talan asked as they resumed their interrupted journey. Haden laughed and pointed a finger at the ranger, causing blood and dirt to lift from his clothing.

“Here we are at the Butcher’s Block,” Haden said. “It’s a favorite watering hole for thieves and cutthroats, but it’s about the best place to eat you’ll find around here.” He pushed through the door and flagged down a scarred old ogre, who seated them at a table.

“Isn’t this where Derioch was going to wait?” Sheen asked, looking around.

“Yes, but it’s not dark yet,” Joris said, applying himself to the food. It was greasy and unremarkable in flavory, but there was plenty of it. Sheen took a few bites to show willing, but she found that food tended to make her feel ill.

“So where to next, my fine Clueless?” Haden asked after they’d more or less finished. “The Gatehouse?”

“Or we could go back to the Mortuary and see if Toranna is back,” Joris suggested.

“Another excellent idea.”

“Let’s go back to the Mortuary,” Sheen said. “Didn’t Derioch say she would check at the Gatehouse for us when she went back there?”

The rain appeared to be letting up as they wound their way through the streets, turning into a heavy mist that made the Hive even more eerie and threatening than before. The surrounding glow that passed for daylight was beginning to fade by the time they arrived. The guard recognized them and sent for Toranna immediately.

“Well, that was easy,” Haden remarked as they waited.

The captain leaned forward and remarked, “Have you considered the possibility that you might already be dead?”

Sheen blinked. “Being dead tends to put a damper on the ‘considering’. So, no.” Haden hid a chuckle behind his hand.

“I’ll have to admit, I’m a bit confused,” Talan murmured.

“That’s not what I meant,” the captain said. “See, what if this”—he made a broad gesture which seemed to indicate everything—“is the afterlife?”

“Then I want a refund,” Sheen announced. Joris chuckled while Talan frowned.

“What if existence is an afterworld test to see if we’re worth for True Death?”

“Then I should remember being alive before, yes?” Sheen asked, growing more irritated by this bizarre line of questioning.

“This is your faction’s philosophy, I suppose?” Joris asked. The captain snapped his fingers and pointed at Joris.

“Exactly.” Sheen harrumphed.

“Hello, I am Toranna. I understand you have some questions for me,” a youngish woman with oddly gray hair said, approaching them. Haden moved forward, took her hand, and bowed over it.

“Madam.” Talan rolled his eyes at Sheen and Joris. Toranna seemed more surprised than flattered, and reclaimed her hand while giving Haden a quelling look. “These poor confused individuals would like to ask if you’ve interred a particular individual recently,” Haden continued as Toranna turned away to address the rest of the group. She did a double-take as she looked at Joris, staring at the symbol on his chest. Around her own neck, there was another symbol on a chain, which Talan vaguely recognized as belonging to Cyric.

“Yes,” Sheen said. “His name is Eliath, but there was no one around to identify him, most likely. He had white hair, a squint, and wore blue robes, most likely.”

“He was pretty thin, too,” Talan added.

Toranna pursed her lips. “Yes, I saw him. We usually send someone’s body to the Outer Plane that best suits them. When they’re unclaimed, or . . .” she shrugged, “they’re incinerated in the Elemental Plane of Fire.”

“Somehow I knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Talan said, grimacing.

“I’m sorry, but your friend went to the flames last week.”

Haden looked extremely disgruntled. “What about his personal effects?”

“Those are usually taken by the Collectors. He didn’t have anything but his robe when they brought him in. If you wanted that, I’m afraid it went with him.”

“Damn!” Haden swore. “Ah, well, I should have expected it.”

“Was there anything else?” Toranna asked. “I should be getting back to work.”

“How did he die, by the way?” Sheen asked. Toranna shrugged.

“I couldn’t tell. Three of us looked him over, but he didn’t have a mark on him.”

“We encountered a similar corpse in an alleyway, and Haden detected some traces of necromantic magic on the body,” Sheen said.

“Have you noticed a lot of these coming your way?” Talan asked.

Toranna looked surprised and vaguely uneasy. “Necromancy? That’s odd. Yes, there have been at least twelve that I can recall.”

“Why odd?” Sheen asked.

“That sounds like someone is using magic to kill them. I wonder why someone would do that?”

“Well, when we find them, I’m sure we can ask them. I’m more interested in how because it might lead us back to them,” Sheen said. “Are there any practicing necromancers in the Hive that you know of?”

“There are a few in the Dustmen,” Toranna said, but none of them are the type to run around killing berks. I’ll get one of our gravespells to look at the one that came in today.”

“Are there a lot of barmy in the Hive?” Talan asked.

“Well, yes, the poor sods always end up down here. No one else wants them, I guess.”

Sheen sighed. “That’s all I can think of at the moment. Let’s head out, shall we?” They left, waiting until they were well out of earshot before convening.

“I couldn’t tell if she was lying,” Joris said, fuming. “Cyric was the god of death until about a year ago, and he’s also the god of lies.”

“Does anyone else find it suspicious that Toranna had mysterious personal business right when that poor insane fellow was killed?” Sheen asked. “I smell a rat. I know it seems like a long shot, but I’d really, really like to keep a watch on the Mortuary and follow her the next time she goes out.” She glanced at Haden. “Are there any back doors? Or do you have to leave through the main gate?”

Haden smirked. “Sooner or later, whether they want to admit it or not, everyone needs my help. It would be better to hire a street urchin to follow her, or several, even. I think you’d be pretty noticeable hanging around.”

“You’d?!” Sheen demanded.

“I’m not exactly part of your little cavalcade here, am I?” Haden asked.

“So you’re planning on leaving?” Sheen asked.

“At some point we do need to meet Derioch at the Butcher’s Block. Maybe hiring a few street urchins isn’t such a bad idea,” Talan said, trying to redirect the argument. Haden gave a noncommittal one shoulder half shrug. “Have we ceased to be so amusing, Haden?” Talan asked.

“There’s a lot more to Sigil than we’ve seen, we may need you a while longer,” Joris said.

“Perhaps,” Haden replied, “but the question is, do I need you.”

“I’ve been wondering when this would happen,” Talan groused. Haden was watching Sheen with an odd expression on his face. She chewed the inside of her cheek a bit.

“What do you want?” she asked finally. Haden leaned forward until his nose was less than an inch away from her own. She concentrated on not moving back from sheer reflex.

“How about you ask me nicely?” he said. Sheen’s face contorted until she looked as though she had swallowed a lemon.

“Back to this, are we?” Talan said. Joris’ hand strayed towards his mace.

“Would you . . . possibly consider . . . sticking around to . . . help us out,” Sheen forced out. Then, after a considerable pause, “Please.”

Haden glanced over at Talan. “I don’t know, does that count as nicely?”

“For Sheen, I’d say yes.”

Haden smiled winningly. “I’ll take what I can get, I suppose. Well, off we go then.” He stopped to accost some street children, hand them a few coins, and ask them to keep an eye on Toranna, the entire transaction taking only a few seconds.

“Let’s go meet Derioch,” Sheen said. They made their way back to the Butcher’s Block through the nighttime Hive, which was alive with the lurid glow of a hundred fires and torches, shining through the ruins and slums. Talan heard a faint cry from a nearby alley and held out his hand for the others to halt.

“Hey! Get off me, ya berk! Get awa—ack!” Haden peered into the alley, but Sheen, more direct, simply drew her sword and began striding towards the source of the disturbance. A bit nervously, the others followed her. They found four thugs restraining a drunk just around the bend. A half elf in roguish costume supervised with a smirk. He cast a spell and the drunk went limp.

“Let’s drag him to the street so the Collectors’ll find him,” he said. Sheen pushed herself into a shadow behind a refuse bin and concentrated, psionic power energizing her for the battle she knew was coming. The others followed suit. The alley was so dark and twisty that the thugs walked right by them without seeing. Talan drew his sword and dagger and leapt from the shadows, throwing himself on the half elf. There was a screech of pain and Sheen followed, trying to take down the spellcaster before he had time to organize himself. She landed a solid blow.

Haden stepped out in front of the first group of toughs and recited a terrible bit of insulting poetry to their stunned faces. Smiling, he bowed and drew his rapier. Joris took advantage of the distraction to crack one in the back of the head with his mace. The thug went down.

Talan assaulted the half elf again, burying his dagger in the man’s gut and ripping it free along with most of his intestines. Sheen and Haden each dispatched a thug, leaving the last one staring at them wide-eyed with horror. Haden assumed a graceful fencing stance, pointing his rapier at the man’s throat. “I’d surrender, if I were you.” The thug looked at his sword, still in its sheath, and fell to his knees.

“Have you been a party to all the deaths of drunks and crazies?!” Sheen demanded viciously. “Well?!”

The thug flinched and pointed at the half elf. “It was him! That sodding Shadowknave!”

“What for?” Sheen asked.

“He hired us to hold ‘em barmies down while he cast ‘is spells on ‘em!”

“What spells?” Talan asked.

“I recognized it,” Joris said. “It was feign death. It makes the subject indistinguishable from a dead person.”

“So he’s just been rendering them unconscious?” Sheen asked.

“I think so. It lasts for a few hours.”

“Are you telling me they were all alive?!” Talan cried.

“I dunno what he was doing to ‘em, I only cared about the jink,” the thug said, shrinking away.

“Did he have a base of operations?” Sheen asked the thug.

“’E was keepin ‘is kip at the Butcher’s Block, but that’s all I know, I swear!” Talan looked even more furious than before.

“I’d take to my heels now before they get it into their heads to skewer you as well,” Haden said conversationally. “And next time, be a little more careful about who you accept money from.”

“Thank you sirs, madam, merciful bloods you is . .” the thug said, and ran for it. Haden began searching the corpses methodically.

“Let’s take this poor ‘corpse’ to Derioch,” Sheen said, hoisting the drunk over her shoulders with a grunt of effort. Her nose wrinkled reflexively at the stench of unwashed clothing and stale drink.

Nov 13, 2007

Psionics Game: Session 11

The day began to dwindle as the pit fights continued. An enormous ogre mage with black, scaly skin and wings put in a brief appearance, bulling his way through the crowd to converse briefly with the Thayvians. The entire group got up and left together.

Kyrian watched them leave. “That must be Yoag,” he observed.

Deen looked over their table. “Well, it’s been entertaining, Elice, but I think I’m going to head back to the shop before it gets completely dark. Don’t want to be out on the street at night if we can avoid it. So, you wanna come with?”

“What’s so bad about nighttime?” La’ss’a asked.

Deen snorted. “Nothing, if you don’t mind being mugged, robbed, and killed. Most of the nasty stuff living here is nocturnal, after all.”

“Can that be . . . arranged . . . here?” La’ss’a asked in what she probably believed was a conspiratorial tone.

“Sure. That’s what Dunloch does, after all.”

“And where would this ‘business’ be transacted?” La’ss’a persisted. “Or, should I say, where can the terms be drawn up?”

“Well, if you want to hire Dunloch and me, and we’re the best, by the way, you should come back to the shop with us. Tom handles all that stuff.” Deen hopped down out of his chair and trotted towards the pit exit. Dunloch rose more elegantly and followed in a swirl of dark robes.

Elice glanced at Sam. “I really should go . . .”

He smiled. “I’ll walk you back. We can catch up some more on old times.”

She smiled back. “That would be nice.” She hooked her arm through Sam’s and they set off together. Kyrian looked at La’ss’a, confused, and the two of them tagged along behind.

“So how did you end up with these people, anyway?” Elice asked after a while, pitching her voice low so that only Sam could hear. He shrugged.

“You know, the usual thing, pick the wrong pocket, get taken in by a powerful mentor, bond with schoolmates. You know how that goes.”

“It’s just that they seem a little odd. But maybe I’m not the one to be pointing the finger about ‘odd’. What happened to bring you all out here? Er, if I’m being too nosy, you don’t have to tell me.”

“I don’t mind. I don’t get a chance to just talk with people much any more. Anyway, our kindly but powerful mentor was attacked by a vicious invader, possibly aided by some of the mentor’s former students. Naturally, I’m driven to revenge. I’ve always been pretty good at revenge.”

“That sounds awful. Maybe I can help you track these people down?” Elice said it with a hopeful lilt to her voice that turned her statement into a question.

“Well, it seems like you already are. See, Nymbus was teaching us all psionics. It turns out I had more talents than I thought and he saw something in me. But now Sulveig has moved in and Nymbus was just in the way . . .”

“That explains a lot. It’s good to know someone is going to deal with Sulveig. He makes Tom very nervous.”

“Let’s hope so, since we’re going to need Tom’s help. Come to think of it, we could use yours as well. Tom seems trustworthy enough, and his needs line up with ours, but I don’t know him like I know you. Can I count on you for advice when we need it?”

“Of course. I’ve been getting a little tired of this city, anyway, maybe I could come work with you instead?”

Sam pondered for a moment, then grinned. “Well, the pay is low, but the danger is high, so that balances out. And, of course, you get al of me as a bonus. We’d be happy to have you along. I would be more than happy to have you along.”

“That sounds like fun. I’m tired of running errands for Tom. He got me out of prison, sure, but enough is enough. It’ll be nice to be around actual friends again.”

“Good. Now let’s go figure out how to steal some stuff and kill somebody.”

The White Scroll was closed, very formally so, with a small sign in the window announcing that fact. Deen casually ignored the sign and went around the building, where he unlocked a door and sauntered inside.

Kyrian looked around at the nearby buildings, whispering to La’ss’a, “Are the elves still following us?” An owl flitted down and landed on the roof above them. A moment later, Jacynth climbed up on the crest of the roof and sat down.”

La’ss’a grinned at Kyrian. “Apparently, they are.”

Tom was surprised when they all walked in. He frantically snatched up an enormous heap of papers, threw them into a chest, slammed the lid, and then sat down on it with a great deal of formality. His smile seemed a bit forced. “So, you’re back! What can I do for you?”

“We need to arrange two things, actually,” La’ss’a said. “The first is that I need to hire a crew for a large ship.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Tom said. “Most of the humans in the city are starving or close to it, they’ll work for potatoes, and a little money can buy a lot of no questions.”

“Well, their new boss will be a little . . . odd. I assume that isn’t an issue, either? They also won’t be coming back to this town, probably ever. But, I promise a huge adventure for those willing to go. Oh, and we only have a couple of days, tops.”

Tom shrugged. “Let’s call it 800 gold for expenses and I’ll take care of it for you. I know people.”

Kyrian sighed. “We should see what everything will cost before we start pooling our cash.”

La’ss’a nodded. “Our second request is more towards these fine folks,” she said, pointing at Deen and Dunloch. “We might need certain doors opened in the near future.”

“I don’t hire my people out without details. I prefer to avoid getting them killed,” Tom explained. “They are very hard to replace, after all.”

“Impossible, you mean,” Deen said, chuckling.

“Nothing’s impossible,” Tom told him. “So don’t go getting a swelled head.”

“Whatever you say, boss.”

“What we need is certain doors in the big building at the center of town opened . . . quietly.”

Deen perked up. “The government building? Whoo, now there’s a fun job!”

“We thought it might interest you,” Kyrian said. Tom looked concerned but Deen waved him down.

“We have no problem with you keeping what you find along the way, as long as it doesn’t compromise the job,” La’ss’a said.

“Sure, we’ll do it,” Deen said. “But we have a 500 gold retainer. When do you want to try it?”

“Apiece?” Kyrian asked.

“No, for both of us. If you want us to *fight*, though, that costs extra.”

“And the cost to remove a few guards along the way?” La’ss’a asked.

Dunloch spoke in his gravelly voice. “There’s a sliding scale depending on the difficulty of the removal. Starts at a thousand gold and goes up from there. Plus expenses, of course.”

La’ss’a shrugged. “We can’t move until we have a crew for the ship, so we have time to do some reconnaissance.”

“Anything else?” Tom asked.

“No, I think that’s everything,” La’ss’a said, digging through her bags and piling gold bars on the table.

Elice raised her hand for attention. “Do you guys need a place to stay?”

“We can stay at the old place again, or here . . .” La’ss’a said, looking confused.

“Oh, well, I wouldn’t go back to the Crimson Road if I were you,” Elice said.

“And this is a shop, not an inn,” Tom added.

Kyrian blinked at Elice. “Why not?”

“Let’s just say I’ve heard Hali has a history of doing some unsavory things to his less-powerful customers.”

“Well, if you have another place in mind, that sounds fine to me,” Kyrian said. “I think I’ve had enough luxury for a while.”

“I know a decent place, run by humans instead of, well, you know. It’s not grand or anything, but it’s clean.”

“What do I know?” Kyrian asked.

Elice looked slightly puzzled. “You thought Hali was human?”

“He isn’t?!”

“No, he’s some sort of shapechanger. I don’t really know what sort, it’s not like I’ve ever seen him do it, myself.”

“Let’s, ah, let’s look at this place you like,” La’ss’a said after a moment.

Elice led them to a large rambling building not far from the docks. It looked very much as though it had once been a group of connected residences, but the former inhabitants had fled. A small, weary man sat behind a crude wooden table just inside the entrance, watching over a box of keys. Elice put down a few coins and he fished around in the box for a while.

“No, not that one,” she said as he started to hand her a key. “It’s a fair-sized group.” Shrugging, he let her pick the one she wanted. “I like these rooms because there’s sort of a view,” she explained as she led them up the stairs. She tugged Sam with her into a small side room where a narrow window looked over the sea. Selune shed a faint milky light over the water.

“Pretty,” Sam remarked. Elice rested her elbows on the windowsill and glanced at him. From the noises, the others were making themselves comfortable in the other rooms.

“Do you . . . want me to stay?” Elice asked very shyly. Sam reached out and put a hand on her back, between her shoulder blades.

“Certainly,” he said.

“So what’re we going to do today?” La’ss’a asked, tearing another bite from her breakfast. “I’m going back to the pits to talk with Eztli a little more.”

“Elice and I are going to take a walk, scope out the city a little more,” Sam said.

“I’d like to find out what happened to Ligeia,” Kyrian said. “She probably just went back to the Crimson Road, but I’d like to be sure. Shall we meet back here around lunchtime?”

“Sounds good,” La’ss’a said.

Lunchtime found them all at the apartment, not much better informed than before. “Quiet day today,” La’ss’a remarked idly.

Kyrian shook his head angrily. “I couldn’t find a trace of Ligeia. Hali said he hadn’t seen her, but I couldn’t tell if he was telling the truth. The Thayvians checked out, too, he said they plan to leave the city soon.” There was a loud knock at the door. “Are we expecting someone?”

Sam glided across the room and pressed his back to the wall behind the door. La’ss’a rolled her eyes. “Who’s there?” She demanded.

“It’s me! Deen!”

“Oh. Come on in.”

The halfling peeked around the door jamb and looked around. “Tom just sent me to tell you that he’s got your crew all lined up, as soon as you’ve got a ship for them, that is.”

“So how long until you’re ready?”

Deen’s expression was scornful. “I’m always ready.”

At dusk, the entire group met outside the government building: Jacynth and the elves, Deen and Dunloch, and Nymbus’ students. It was a bit of a crowd and they would have drawn attention if there were any attention to draw. The plaza was abandoned, apart from a pair of ogre mages guarding the main doors. They wore clothing that approximated uniforms, so they looked even more incongruous than ogre mages usually did.

“We’re here looking for a jaguar mask,” La’ss’a said by way of greeting. “I would assume it is somewhere in a treasury or personal quarters.”

“We’ll just have to search for it,” Deen said. “Now, if I were the boss here, and I’m not, I’d recommend we go in through the roof. From what I remember, there’s a system of catwalks and so forth in the rafters for making repairs and lighting the candles. The ogre mages don’t go up there because it won’t take the weight. Plus, they can fly, so they don’t care.”

Kyrian fluttered his wings. “They’re not the only ones.”

Deen found a secluded corner and hurled a grappling hook straight up. With a few practiced yanks on the rope, he got it wedged and began climbing. The others followed him rapidly and quietly. They began making their way over the sloping roof. Kyrian looked out over the plaza and sighed. He didn’t get to fly much, these days, and he missed it. The world looked different when you were far off the ground. The city looked like a strange sort of forest, with little creatures scurrying below. In fact, some were coming this direction.

“We got company, guys,” he whispered, pointing at the approaching group. They marched, in step, straight towards the government building. In front was a massive ogre mage, black wings flaring from his shoulders as he walked. The other five figures looked like humans. Most of them wore robes and strode with self-assurance and authority.

“Yoag, and the Thayvians,” Sam remarked. There was a colossal explosion at the doors that rocked the entire building and the Thayvians continued their march, stepping over the corpses of the two ogre mage guards. Sam grinned. “Chaos, death, and murder. Excellent.”

“We need to get inside now,” La’ss’a said. Deen showed them a trapdoor in the roof and they slipped through. Below, yet another ogre mage attired in rich robes sat in a massive stone chair, surrounded by his brutish guards. The door flew open with a crash and Yoag entered, snarling and flapping his immense batlike wings. Sythillis hurled himself from his chair and bellowed, “WHAT IS GOING ON OUT THERE?!”

“Your rule ends now, old fool!” Yoag screeched.

La’ss’a pointed behind the throne, where a small, thin mask was sitting on a display podium. “When the fight begins, I can fly down there and grab it,” Kyrian said.

“Sounds like a plan,” Sam said, but you’d better be fast.”

“We will see who is the fool!” Sythillis howled. One of the Thayvians made a complicated gesture and the mask appeared in his hands.

“Or maybe not,” Kyrian said, his wings drooping.

Yoag looked down at the red-robed human, taking his eyes off Sythillis for a moment. “Our deal is good?” he demanded. The Thayvian nodded.

Sythillis spat arcane words and pointed a finger at Yoag. There was a bright flash and Yoag dissolved into an expanding cloud of dust. Dunloch looked over at La’ss’a.

“So now what do we do?”

“We kill the Thayvian with the mask, we take it, and we run very, VERY fast,” Sam said.

The mask-holding Thayvian waved at Sythillis and a black aura bloomed around the ogre mage for a moment. Sythillis stumbled to the side, shaking his head as though trying to clear it as the ogre brutes charged. There was a bloody clash of arms and the Thayvians smashed the guards utterly, then moved on Sythillis, who was still rocking backwards and forwards in confusion. Twin explosions erupted, and the room filled with thick, choking smoke.

“It’s now or never,” Sam said and dropped a rope down into the room. He slid down quickly and silently, followed by La’ss’a. Kyrian swooped towards the floor and attacked the Thayvian wizard holding the mask. The human gasped as a sword cut into his thigh, he tried to dodge away, waving his arms frantically and chanting, as La’ss’a leapt from the rope and landed more or less on his head.

“FOR MISTRESS RELDRIN!” the little lizard screeched, clawing and biting at the angry wizard. Sam and Kyrian pulled the man down and grabbed the mask. At that moment, across the room, there was a tremendous thud as Sythillis finally fell. Sam, La’ss’a, and Kyrian took to their heels, charging out the ruined doors and ducking and dodging through the streets. They finally came to a panting stop not far from the docks.

“It looks like we got away clean,” Kyrian said. Then he looked around. A red glow suffused the sky, and the sound of fighting was loud and growing louder.

“Or maybe not,” Sam replied.

Nov 6, 2007

Cold Blood: Session 3

The three blood-covered travelers staggered their way towards the inn, which sported a jaunty sign naming it “Chirper’s”. When they opened the door, the proprietor took one look at them and declared, “Baths, that way!”

“Thanks,” Talan mumbled as they tried to figure out how to change directions. That was Sheen’s last clear memory. She woke up the following morning in a warm, comfortable bed. She felt a bit weak still, but managed to stand. That’s when she discovered she was naked. Her clothes had been cleaned, scrubbed, rather, and laid in a neat pile with her armor and weapons. She dressed hurriedly and went looking for Joris and Talan.

It didn’t take much of a search to locate them. The cheerful sound of a woman’s voice tripped from the room next door. Sheen peered in to discover a tall, slender blonde doctoring one of Joris’ injuries. The cleric’s skin was red and swollen and he shivered violently.

“What’s wrong with him?” Sheen demanded. The woman turned and smiled, a bit vacantly in Sheen’s opinion.

“He has the red ache, probably from these nasty bites. I can cure it, but it will take a few days for him to recover fully. I’m Thea, by the way.”

“I am Sheen. Where is Talan?”

“The half-elf? He’s mostly all right, but he’s looking a bit peaky so I told him to stay in bed.” Thea finished her ministrations and rolled Joris over carefully. She patted his face, then giggled. “He’s cute. Or, well, he would be if he wasn’t all puffy at the moment. So, you’re Clueless, eh?”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

Thea giggled some more. “It means you don’t know apples from arseholes, around here, anyway. That you’re not conversant with the local conditions, I mean.”

Sheen shrugged. “I suppose that is a fair enough description. Crude, though.”

“Ah, well, you get used to that around here. Let me tell you . . .”

It was at least an hour before Sheen managed to escape, and that only because someone called Thea away. Her ears ringing, Sheen left the inn and went on a walk, trying not to gawk too much. She could see the presence of the factions Thea had mentioned on nearly every street corner. “This isn’t much better than the guilds,” she muttered. “It will take time to find work here.” Tired and somewhat discouraged, she returned to the inn.

Joris was much improved the next day, but Talan proceeded to come down with a fever and swollen joints of his own, so a couple more days were spent hanging around Chirper’s before everyone was fully convalescent. Thea bustled in while they were all eating breakfast and trying to decide what to do.

“Oh, don’t you all just look so much better,” she announced. “I have good news for you!”

“You do?” Joris asked, startled.

“Oh, indeed. I found you a job! That way, you can afford to pay me!”

“If I may ask,” Talan said. “Just how much do we owe you? Not that I’m complaining.”

“Whatever it is, we’ll pay it,” Sheen said. “It may take some time, though.”

“Well, you both came down with the red ache . . . plus you were all weak from blood drain . . .” Thea’s lips moved as she calculated. “Nine hundred gold pieces.”

Sheen tried not to wince.

“It’s nice to know Joris and I are worth so much,” Talan said, smiling. “All joking aside, we greatly appreciate all your help.”

“My pleasure,” Thea said.

“So what kind of job did you have in mind?” Sheen asked.

“One of my superiors in the Society is looking for someone, and I figure we could use your help.”

“Well, I have some experience in looking for people,” Sheen said. “Granted, not necessarily in finding them. But if you’d like some unknowns to wander around and ask questions and snoop in questionable places, you can’t go wrong with hiring us.”

Talan scrutinized Thea for a moment. “Would you tell us why you are looking for this person? And what will happen to them after we find them?”

“Well, I don’t have the whole story,” Thea said, “but he’s supposed to know something that my boss is trying to find out. If you can bring him in, they just want to ask him some questions. He’s barmy though, and he was last seen in the Hive . . .”

“If we bring him in, will our debts be paid in full?” Talan asked.

“Yep, and I’ll pay you a thousand gold on top of that. Pretty sweet, huh? Total, not apiece.”

“That is generous,” Sheen said.

“Could you give us a moment, please?” Talan asked.

“Sure, sure,” Thea said, and bustled out of the room. Talan climbed out of his chair and pressed a pointed ear to the door. Hearing nothing, he resumed his seat.

“Well?” He said.

“I’m in favor of doing it,” Sheen said. “This ‘hive’ can’t be any worse than Avernus.”

“Yes,” the half-elf said. “But who pays 1900 gold just to talk to someone?”

“Someone who stands to gain a lot more than that from doing so,” Sheen said.

“I don’t like it. There’s something wrong about this, but we may not have much of a choice. Sheen, Joris and I are the ones who incurred the bulk of the debt . . .”

“No. Share and share alike. I would never have survived to get out of Avernus without your help.”

Talan looked at Joris. “Any thoughts?”

Joris held his hands up helplessly. “Debt or no, my purse is empty. I need something if we’re going to stay here.”

“Taking the job doesn’t mean we have to complete it,” Sheen stated. “If it turns out to be questionable in some way, we can take steps after we discover that.” Talan nodded. “So we’re agreed, then?”

Sheen stood and opened the door. Thea was standing near the stairs conversing cheerfully with a halfling. Sheen approached them and waited patiently to be noticed. Thea was quite wrapped up in the conversation, but the halfling tugged on her skirt and pointed in Sheen’s direction. His expression was almost grateful.

“We have decided to accept your commission,” Sheen announced.

“Oh, good!” Thea chirped and bustled back into the room. Sheen followed and resumed her seat while Thea closed the door authoritatively. “So, the fellow’s name is Eliath.”

“I feel I should warn you that we will not consider ourselves bound to do anything immoral,” Sheen cautioned. Thea blinked in surprise.

“What, you haven’t been here a week and they’re already feeding you lies about the Society? We’re not all a bunch of wicked hedonists, you know.”

“Pardon?” Sheen asked. Joris stared. “My apologies, it was a general caveat, not an accusation.”

“But now that you bring it up . . .” Talan began.

Thea giggled. “I’m just having you on! The Society believes that experiencing the universe is the only way to achieve Truth. We want to see it all, taste it all . . . but a lot of berks join up just to indulge themselves. So, we have a reputation, but we’re not all like that. So, anyway, I don’t want you doin’ anything bad.”

Sheen made a face. “Well, there are deviants in any organization. So this Eliath is supposed to be in the Hive somewhere? Can you tell us anything more about him? What he looks like, that sort of thing?”

“Well, he was in the Hive last anyone saw him. I can describe him as he was described to me. He’s a short, wiry fellow who’s missed a few meals too many. He was last seen in his tattered blue robes, of course that was a few months back. He’s got white hair, and he squints cos he’s nearsighted.”

“Does he know you’re looking for him?” Talan asked. “Or, rather, is he actively avoiding you?”

Thea giggled. “I think he’s pretty barking barmy. I don’t know if he knows much of anything. I doubt he’s got any reason to be peery.”

“So how do you know he’ll be sane enough to answer your questions?” Talan asked.

“Hey, that’s the factor’s problem.”

“Any known acquaintances?” Sheen asked. “Hangouts?”

“And should we bring him back here?” Talan asked.

“Eh, he’s been seen all over the Hive. If you want to meet here, that’s fine. The Bleak Cabal runs the Gatehouse down there, that’s the asylum. You might check with them.”

“It’s something to start with, anyway,” Sheen said, standing up.

“Just be peery,” Thea said. “It’s pretty dangerous down there. The Hive is kip for the Xaositects, they consider the whole Ward their turf.”

Sheen sighed. “A great many people consider a great many things. Frequently, they are mistaken. Not always though, so it pays to be careful.”

“Just be polite, mostly,” Thea said.

“Shall we head out?” Sheen asked.

“Might as well,” Talan said. They packed their few belongings and set out on the streets. It was chilly outside, and the air was full of mist that vaguely threatened to become rain. They walked for some time, pausing to ask directions periodically.

Without warning, the sprawl of the Hive Ward surrounded them in a gray warren of rundown buildings, filthy streets, and desperate people. The cold drizzle drove many of the street people to take shelter in rickety, condemned tenements that glowed with cooking fires. Haggard faces peered at the them from every window.

Cheap alehouses abounded, and the cracks were well-filled with ratty inns, gaming halls, and decrepit pawnshops. The shopkeepers watched in silence, their suspicion plain. The only friendly people appeared to be drunks, crazies, prostitutes and beggars, who swarmed as thick as locusts. The streets were a maze; it would obviously take a long time to canvass the Hive.

“So where do we start?” Talan asked, staring around while drumming his fingers on the hilt of his short sword.

“Well, if Eliath spent his time wandering the streets, the street people have probably seen him. Let’s just start asking around,” Sheen said. After a turn or two found themselves in an open area crowded with merchants and shoppers. A rusted metal sign proclaimed it the Night Market. Sheen tried to catch a merchant’s attention to ask him some questions.

Talan jumped as a loud croaking sounded to his left. “Alms, alms for the poor!” a sad-faced old man cried, holding up a tin cup in a shaking hand. “Please, sir, alms for an old man whose luck has run out?” Talan dropped a gold coin in the cup. “Bless you, kind sir, oh bless you!”

The half-elf smiled. “I was hoping you could tell me about a man named Eliath.”

“No, no,” the old man said, backing away. Talan was rudely jostled and lost track of his quarry in the crowd.

“Excuse me, young man, but you appear to have dropped this.” Talan blinked as his own purse was thrust in front of his face for inspection. A tall, slender man with very pale skin was scrutinizing Talan closely. One of his eyes was blue, the other red. His hair was black with white streaks.

“Ah, well met, sir. I should have been more careful,” Talan said, taking the purse and replacing it in his pocket. The man leaned in, overtly friendly, and grinned. His teeth seemed a little too sharp, and he had small horns that were almost hidden by his hair.

“You want to be careful in these parts, friend, at least, if you want to hang onto your belongings.”

“Thank you for your assistance, Mister . . .?” Joris said.

The stranger bowed with a slight flourish. “My name is Haden. So what brings such a trio of fine Clueless out in the Hive this morning? Looking for someone, hmm?”

“Is there a problem with that?” Sheen demanded.

“Oh, no problem,” Haden said smoothly. “I just thought you might have a use for the services of a . . . guide.” Fresh air swept down over them briefly as a djinni floated by.

“What would give you that idea?” Talan asked.

“Well, someone around these parts has been killing bubbers and barmies—that’s drunks and crazies to you. Anyone vulnerable, really. And that includes you.”

Joris frowned. “I’m not sure we can afford your services, Haden.”

Talan’s gaze encompassed his two companions. “You wouldn’t happen to know if any of the people killed had white hair and were skinny?”

“I tend to avoid personal involvement with that sort of, well, person. So no, I don’t know. But I’m not so expensive. It’s not money I’m after.”

“So what do you want?” Sheen demanded. Haden seized her hand.

“Why, my dear lady, I’m just looking to amuse myself. When I saw you I thought . . .”

“Get your hands off me!”

Talan’s hand went instantly to his sword. “I would listen to the lady if I were you.” Haden seemed unperturbed, but released Sheen’s hand with alacrity.

“Ahem. I thought that nothing in this sordid pit could possibly be more amusing than three Clueless wandering around looking for someone. So, am I hired? Cheap at any price, my friends.”

“He might be right about that, at least,” Joris said. Haden shot him a dirty look. “Sorry, I meant that we’re amusing, not that you’re cheap,” the cleric explained, smiling slightly. Sheen glanced at Talan, attempting to suppress her own grin.

“So you’ll hang around and generally make a nuisance of yourself, provided we keep you amused?” she asked.

“Exactly,” Haden said.

Sheen looked at Talan again. “Frankly, I don’t see any way to prevent him from following us, and at least this way he’d be out where we could see him.”

“Capital,” Haden said.

“I don’t trust you,” Talan said, “but Sheen’s right.”

They continued asking around the Night Market for a while, until finally one of the shopkeepers suggested irritably that they try the Blood Pit.

“Haden, what can you tell us about the Blood Pit?” Talan asked as they walked.

“It is where the gentlemen with more muscles than brains go to exhibit that fact. And where people with more money than is really good for them go to remedy that situation.”

“Can you lead us there?” Talan asked.

“Of course. The Pit itself won’t be open this early, but maybe the bar will be.”

A series of rundown warehouses concealed a fighting ring with seating for hundreds of spectators. It was empty and silent, but a dirty-looking gnome appeared to be manning the bar. Talan approached and sat down.

“Mornin’, sir. Care for a spot o’ bub?” the gnome asked. Haden selected a stool and unfolded a black silk handkerchief onto the seat before sitting down almost daintily and crossing his legs. Sheen and Joris perched on their own stools. Talan looked over the menu and winced at the prices.

“What do you have to drink?” Sheen asked, curious.

“I’ve got bub from all over the planes, m’dear. Are you working on a drunk, or just wanna dive in? M’name’s Felgar, friends. Welcome to the Blood Pit.”

“Nice to meet you. I am Sheen, and these are Joris and Talan. It’s a little early to be getting drunk, but we would be more than happy to spring for some information.”

Felgar’s beady eyes glowed with excitement. “Are you askin’ around about the lost berks? The bubbers and barmies and what-not?”

Sheen shifted her weight, uncomfortable with the gnome’s intense stare. “Possibly. We’re looking for one particular, uh, barmy, is the problem. If he’s, uh, lost, then the situation becomes our problem, yes?” Haden snorted with laughter at hearing Sheen try to speak the cant. Felgar scratched his head, causing a small dust cloud.

“I dunno, mebbe.” He leaned forward and Sheen got a whiff of strong tobacco. “But I know WHY they’re gettin’ writ in the dead book!”

Talan tapped on the bar as Sheen recoiled. “You’re the second person whose mentioned all the dead crazies,” he said, glancing at Haden.

“Why are you looking at me?” Haden asked. “I’m not killing them.”

“We only have your word for that so far,” Sheen said.

Felgar grinned. “Word hasn’t got out to the rest of the Cage, but it’s all anyone talks about in the Hive.”

“So why are they getting killed?” Sheen asked.

“Because a shadow demon is eating their SOULS!! It’s a Guvner who found a way to gain power by feedin’ on the life force o’ the innocent! Soon he’ll be strong enuff to unseat the Lady of PAIN! It’s the only explanation that MAKES SENSE!!”

Joris began backing towards the door. Halen took one look at the cleric and burst out laughing. “Oh, Felgar, you are too much.”

Felgar appeared puzzled. “What?! I got the dark of it, right enough!”

“Next you’ll be trying to sell them that story about the mechanical chicken.”

Felgar’s smile faltered. “I tole ye, that mechanical chicken was PRIMUS in DISGUISE!!! The boss modron was goin’ through me garbage one night an’ no one believes me . . .”

“Care to let the rest of us in on the joke?” Talan asked pointedly.

“Felgar has a bit of a . . .reputation around these parts as a conspiracy theorist.” Shadows flicked across the bar as some rough-looking men walked in. They wore the colors of the Bleak Cabal openly. Their boss, a hard-looking woman in her forties, surveyed the bar with a grim expression.

“Greetings,” Sheen said. The woman stared down at her.

“Tell me what you’re doing in the Hive if you want to walk out of here still breathin’.” Sheen’s expression froze.

“Mornin’, Derioch,” Felgar said cheerfully.

“Not now,” the woman snapped.

“I beg your pardon?” Sheen said at last.

“Barmies are the Bleaker’s charges, an’ someone’s killin’ them off. What are you lot doin’ in the Hive?”

“Do you ask everyone this in that insulting manner?” Sheen demanded, standing up. She barely came up to Derioch’s chin. Derioch looked as though she’d just been slapped. Her toughs tensed and began to finger their weapons.

“From what we’ve heard, the killings have been going on for some time, and we just arrived,” Talan said, fingering his own sword hilts. Joris glanced over at Haden, who was beginning to look extremely worried.

“I beg your pardon, madam,” Haden said. “They’re Clueless. Especially her.” Sheen inhaled to add something scathing, but Haden insinuated himself smoothly between her and Derioch, who tried to eye Haden and keep an eye on Sheen at the same time. “I can assure you that they’re no trouble. I mean, look at them.”

“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” Derioch asked, scowling at Haden. “You know Bendon Mawl, I think.”

“Ah, yes, I have been around once or twice. My name is Haden.”

Joris leaned over and whispered to Talan, “All right, now I’m glad he’s here.” Sheen was obviously fuming, but thus far restraining herself.

“I don’t think we’ve met, Haden. Derioch Ysarl.” She offered a bony-fingered hand. Haden took her hand and bowed over it elegantly.

“A pleasure. If there is any way we can assist you . . .?”

Derioch composed herself. “Let me see if I can do this again. Politely,” she snarled, glaring at Sheen. “Why are you lot in the Hive? Please.” The thugs relaxed, but only a little.

“Please forgive us our poor manners,” Talan said. “We were hoping to find someone and we were told that he was seen last in the Hive.

Derioch sat down and Felgar put a fuming drink in her hand. She took a sip. “Oh yeah? Anyone I know?”

“Being unfamiliar with this area and not knowing you, I am not sure, but the individual we seek is named Eliath.”

“Can’t say as I know the name. He owe you money or somethin’?”

“No,” Talan said. “We’re just repaying a debt.”

“He’s a madma—a barmy,” Joris said, stumbling over the unfamiliar word. Derioch smiled at him. It was scarier than her frown.

“You’re lookin’ for a barmy? The Bleakers keep records of every sod who chucks off his mind in the Cage. I’ll drop by the Gatehouse later, see what I can scratch up.”

Haden cleared his throat. “If I may ask, do you have any idea what is causing all these mysterious deaths?”

Derioch’s smile fled instantly. “No, but I’d give about anythin’ to find out. If I help you, you keep an eye out for anyone unusual in the Hive.”

“Of course,” Talan said. “Thank you for your help.”

“Good. I’ll be at the Butcher’s Block after dark, if I don’t see ye before then.”

Haden tugged on Sheen’s sleeve. “We’ll just leave you to enjoy your drinks in peace, then.” Derioch waved a hand dismissively and they all headed for the door a bit more quickly than was absolutely necessary, Haden pulling Sheen along behind him. They nearly ran into a tall, red-haired man in a battered brown waistcoat.

“Baphomet!” He declared. “Pazuzu! Malcanthet! Juiblex. Of course, Juiblex. Zuggtmoy!” His long limbs jigged up and down like drunken spiders.

“Is there some reason you’re shouting the names of the great evils?” Haden asked. “Do you want them to show up?”

“I tell you, I’ve seen! I’ve seen! The flies take your mind!” the man cried. He stared Haden right in the eyes, then jigged sideways and lurched into an alley, still shouting. “Pale Night! Adimarchus!”

“Looks like a barmy to me,” Talan said quietly. Sheen frowned.

“Let’s follow this gentleman,” she said.

“Demogorgon, Pazuzu!” they heard faintly. Then, “N-no! Get away! The flies . . . ackk!”

As one unit, everyone drew weapons and charged into the alley. They raced around the corner to find the red-haired man lying dead on the ground without a mark on him. After a pause they put their weapons away again.

“That’s it,” Talan announced. “The next barmy we see, we’re sticking to him like glue.” Haden frowned and chanted briefly, his fingers making a complex gesture. A group of six ragged men entered the alley from the street. They wore mismatched clothing that looked as though it had once belonged to wealthy people, and carried themselves with a strange semblance of dignity.

“Um, hello?” Sheen said, raising an eyebrow. They peered at the corpse.

“’e yours, then?”

“Ours? Uh, no,” Talan said. “Why do you ask?”

A man in dark glasses and a moth-eaten top hat stepped forward. “So, we cans Collect ‘im?”

“Collect him for what?” Talan asked.

“He appears to be deceased,” Sheen said uncertainly. “We heard him yelling so we came in here to see if we could help. Um. It’s probably best if you take him away decently.” The man in the hat approached the corpse and opened a dusty book.

“Give ‘im the business, Tom!”

“O, whatever power this poor sod worship’d,” Tom intoned, “look kindly upon the departed spirit of—anyone know this sod’s name? No? Oh well, the departed spirit of yon servant!” He finished and snapped the book closed. “Ooh, looky, are that a gold tooth?” The other collectors descended upon the corpse like so many vultures and began methodically stripping it. When they finished, they sewed the man up in a sack.

“Have you been collecting a lot more lately?” Talan asked.

“Yeah, we finds quite a few like this, dead wi’out a sign o’ what kilt ‘em. It are like they lies down an’ falls asleep an’ don’t wake up. Peaceful, that.”

“If you’ve collected a specific person, how would we find out?” Sheen asked.

“Dunno, we sees a lot of deaders. They keep records at ther Mortuary, if they gots a name.” One of the bigger Collectors heaved the sacked corpse over his shoulder. Joris stared, transfixed by the strange ‘ceremony’.

“Let’s go,” Sheen said, and left the alley. They leaned against a wall until the Collectors were long gone.

“Now what?” Talan asked.

“That was foul,” Sheen remarked.

“I have to agree,” Joris said.

“They certainly showed up very quickly, too,” Sheen continued.

“How common is what we just witnessed, Haden?” Talan asked. Haden shrugged.

“The Collectors always move fast. Better pickings that way. And you don’t want dead people cluttering up the alleys, after all. Disease. People are crammed together here. A plague would be a horror. I wouldn’t care to wager a guess as to how often people drop dead around here, though. Should you be curious, I detected a slight necromantic aura around the poor mad dead gentleman.”
“Someone used magic to kill him?” Joris asked.

“That’s fairly powerful magic, then,” Haden said.

“What for, though?” Talan asked. “Maybe we should check at the Mortuary, see if there’s a pattern.”

“Felgar’s obvious eccentricity aside, there are a number of uses for dead people,” Haden explained. “For example, some fiends will grant wishes if you contract to kill a certain number of people. It corrupts the soul or some such. That is only an example, though.”

Joris blinked. “We did have some experience with fiends on our way to Sigil.”

“We came to the city through Avernus,” Sheen explained. “It was an accident more than anything.”

Haden smirked. “I wouldn’t let Derioch hear you say that.”

Joris shivered. “I’d rather not have her hear me say ANYthing.”

“She seemed a bit high-strung,” Talan remarked. “Are all the guards around here like that?”

“Well, Derioch is looking for the killer, of course, so she’s more than a little frazzled at the moment. Standing around in the street isn’t very interesting. I suppose we could go look at the Mortuary records, at least. The Dustmen are usually good for a laugh.” Haden waved up the street. “Shall we?” Haden smiled slightly. “Ah, silent place of unlamented dead/where neither light nor beauty ever come/only dust and shadows long forgot/hidden from the sight of distant home.” He muttered as they walked.

The streets were crowded, so it was a long slog to reach the Mortuary. The great dome erupted from the ground, flanked by squat towers. Six guards wearing ragged black robes halted them as they approached the wrought iron gates.

“What’s your business here?” a guard demanded. “Who’ve you come to bury? All of you are still on your feet.”

“You, if you don’t keep a civil tongue in your mouth,” Sheen snapped. The guards exchanged pleased glances.

“Oh here she goes again . . .” Haden sighed. He looked at Talan. “Is she always like this?”

“Yes,” Talan said.

“We would like to examine your records,” Sheen continued when the guards didn’t react.

“It doesn’t work that way. We can check records FOR you. What did you want to know?”

“We would like to know if a man named Eliath was collected recently. He has, er, had? Um. White hair, was thin, and usually wore the remains of blue robes.”

“Are you family?” the Dustman asked.

“Maybe, it’s a big universe,” Sheen announced. “I doubt it, though.”

“That was almost a joke,” Haden said.

“Don’t hold your breath,” Talan told him.

“I doubt he had any family,” Joris said. “He was barmy.”

“Then it’s Toranna you should see. Any nameless sods come in, she’s the one in charge of interring them. If your sod came in recently, she’ll know. Trouble is, she’s out of the office at the moment.”

“When will she be back?” Talan asked.

“An hour, maybe two. Personal business of some sort.”

“What kind of personal business?” Sheen demanded.

“I don’t know. Personal. Not my business, in other words,” the Dustman said, his tone flat and hostile.

Haden stepped forward and said brightly, “Let’s come back later, shall we?”

“Sounds good to me,” Talan said. Haden threw an arm around Joris and Talan’s shoulders.

“I don’t know about you gentlemen, but I am famished. Let’s go get something to eat.” Haden glanced at Sheen. “And I’m sure you can tag along if you like.”

Joris shook his head. “I wish I’d asked for some coin up front,” he said as they walked. The crowds remained thick, so they ducked into another alley.

“Don’t worry, I can cover you . . .” Talan said just as Haden spoke, “No worries, my friend, I have you covered. I know just the place.” They grinned at each other.

“I’ll flip you for it,” Haden offered. He let go of the half-elf’s shoulders to dodge a pile of refuse, then turned, hearing footsteps coming down the alley behind them. Joris stopped as two figures stepped out in front of them, weapons drawn. They wore Xaositect colors and looked nasty.

“Is there a problem?” Sheen demanded.

“Easy way or hard, choice yours it is,” rumbled a massive fellow carrying a greatsword. “Weapons drop! Best is surrender. Collectors you’ll meet otherwise, two smiles you’ll have!”

Sheen leveled her spear at them, bracing it against the pavement and crouching slightly. Haden looked over at her.

“You know what? I think I’ll let you handle this one,” he said.

Nov 4, 2007

Eztli and La'ss'a

Hideere led La’ss’a down yet another concealed staircase that emerged below the pit floor in what appeared to be an ancient sea-cave. Thick limestone pillars held up the ceiling. A few trickling streams wound their slow way into multicolored pools. Brackets had been hammered into the stone and set with torches that thickened the air with their smoke and cast a flickering orange light.

“That way,” the massive half-orc intoned and stood aside, leaving La’ss’a to debate whether she really wanted to continue or not. She straightened her spine and took a few steps forward into darkness. Something moved in the shadows and she found herself looking up at two luminous yellow eyes.

“Um, hello?” La’ss’a said, somewhat worried. The eyes regarded her in silence for a time, then the enormous troll turned and knuckled towards the deeper caverns. La’ss’a followed cautiously until they emerged in to a large, circular chamber. The walls were decorated with snakeskins, feathered masks and cloaks, and obsidian weaponry. A massive stone altar block much like an altar occupied the center of the chamber, covered with a litter of bones, gems, and bits of fur.

Eztli settled himself beside the altar and regarded La’ss’a once more, his expression impassive.

“Did you want to talk to me?” La’ss’a asked.

“Not talk. Look. Smell. Listen. I see you fight with favor of the gods. You make good sacrifice. Blood, death . . . kill so fast enemy hardly have time to be afraid, to feel pain. Good way to die.”

“Do you mean you’re going to kill me?!” La’ss’a squeaked, raising her claws defensively. Eztli laughed, his deep, booming voice making the room tremble.

“No, no. My tongue not so good. You fighting good in pit, I mean. Mighty warrior. Gods favor you. I fight in land-across-water long while, not find any favored by gods. Only false gods and dark-poisoned creatures. Bad blood.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Try to make tongue, but not many chance.”

“Make tongue? You mean you don’t speak the Common tongue very well?” La’ss’a hazarded. Eztli pondered the statement for a while, then nodded ponderously. She plopped down on the floor and made herself comfortable. “So, you asked me down here because I fight well?”

“Fight well, yes. Fight like god.”

“What does that mean?”

“Gods grant favor to warriors.” Eztli’s brow furrowed as he tried to find the words. He held up two clawed hands. “Favor.” The troll’s eyes glowed with silver fire and a sheen of ectoplasm formed over its skin for a moment, then dissipated.

“You mean psionics?!”

“Not know si-on-icks. Gray dwarf-creature calls me si-on-ic. Drask poisoned by darkness, not favored of gods. I sense corruption only, no favor, no bright power spread from Teotican and Tlatocalli.”

“You think this power comes from the gods?”

“I not think, I know,” Eztli said definitively.

“I don’t serve any god, but I have the power anyway.”

“Maybe you serve god and not know it.”

“I don’t think so,” La’ss’a said. Eztli grinned, baring horrible teeth. “Where do you come from, anyway?” she asked.

“The True World. Across the water.”

La’ss’a frowned and muttered to herself, “I wish Fa’ss’th were here. He’d know what that meant. You came here on a ship? With Sulveig?”

“Yes, Sulveig looking for mighty warriors, favored by the gods. So I cross the water in the ship.”

“Is Sulveig favored by the gods?”

“Oh, yes, many favored. Very mighty.”

“As mighty as Eztli?”

The troll snorted and waved a claw dismissively. “Maybe. I fight Sulveig only if gods demand it, then gods choose between us. Maybe they want Sulveig’s heart, maybe mine. Sulveig priest, mostly, not warrior, but gods want priest heart sometimes.”

“Um, wait a second, if you make all these sacrifices, why don’t you act like other trolls?”

“What troll?”

“You. You’re a troll. Why didn’t you kill Irix, the drow?”

Eztli looked down at himself, perplexed. “Zaltec re-make me on Night of Wailing. Re-make many Jaguar warriors and priests of Viperhand. Not pretty, but very strong. Hard to hurt. Harder to kill.” He paused. “Not kill Irix because he yielded. Cowardly. Gods not want.”

“So, you aren’t really a troll? You’re . . . polymorphed?” Eztli just looked confused. “I mean, you weren’t born this way?”

“No. Born human. La’ss’a always small lizard?”

“Yes. My mom was a lizard, my dad was a lizard. I’m a lizard. Well, lizardfolk, actually.”

“Even lizards serve gods.” Eztli’s long arm shot out and he pinched one of La’ss’a’s claws between his thumb and forefinger. “Could serve better, though. La’ss’a not very mighty, not fight properly. Have claws but not use right.”

“What do you mean?”

The troll flexed its clawed hands. “La’ss’a scratch like small cat instead of like jaguar. I teach.”


“Show False World the power of true gods. Then maybe I go home again. I get tired of False World, false gods, but I cannot go home until Sulveig finish mission.”

“What mission?”

Eztli shrugged. “Priests not telling warriors what they are doing. Only say, go here, go there, do this, do that. If I understand, I be priest then.”

“Okay. Well teach me to scratch like a jaguar, then. Can I bring some other people here to talk with you, later?”

“If you want. I not care.”

* * *

La'ss'a flopped on the ground, panting while Eztli looked on. "So tell me more about Sulveig's allies. I know about the dragon, at least, but who else works with him?"

Eztli frowned. "Frog woman."

"A frog woman?"

"Yes, Vile Tendwis. Her skin is all green and spotty like frog. Poisonous like frog, too. Moves very fast. Giant clawed frogs serve her. They hate, they wish always to destroy."

"That doesn't sound good. What else?"

"Insect, like praying mantis. Fights with fire and three, four weapons at one time. Very dangerous."

"Does it have a name?"

"Not really a name, more a noise. Krrik'Tchuk."

"And what else?"

"Ga'an Badak serves Sulveig as general, commands many gray dwarf men, like Drask. You want to know more, you ask Drask, though he likely not tell you anyway."

"All righty."

"Sulveig also have bodyguard, Morgnatheir. Big hairy horned creature, not human. Perhaps changed by gods, but maybe not. Most of Sulveig's followers from True World, changed like Eztli. Warriors big and strong, priests small and blue."

"I wish I knew what he was doing!"

Eztli shrugged. "He seek those favored by gods a lot, ask many questions. Then he go out and look for things."

"What things?"

"Gifts from gods, given to men long ago. Lost during wars, only rumors now. Sulveig found one, gave to Sythillis while Sulveig travels."

"The mask thing?"


"Hmm. Would you come work for us if I could get you home? What would you need? A ship? A crew? Supplies?"

"And sacrifices for gods. Sulveig made sacrifices in True World, but even so many storm on the water. Must have mighty warrior heart indeed to cross water again. Gods not like sacrifices made in False World so much. Time to practice more. Talk later."

La'ss'a sighed and got up again, her mind racing.

Nov 2, 2007

Psionics Game: Session 10

“So you are . . . adventurers?” Fa’ss’th asked while Barak and Oren helped the newcomers with their injured comrades. Calix’s expression was confused.

“Is there something wrong with that? You appear to be adventurers yourselves.”

“Yes, but professional adventurers?” Fa’ss’th persisted. “I can understand becoming an adventurer if some kind of disaster happened, but not as a lifestyle.”

Calix shrugged. “The pay is good and it gets you out in the fresh air.”

“Not to mention out in the dank pits of doom,” Demaris remarked. Calix shrugged again.

“If you want the reward, you have to take the risks. So what happened to this village?”

“Sythillis’ army happened to it,” Olena said. “How did your group get so injured?”

“We ran into a supply caravan of sorts. I thought it was just orcs, but it turned out to be something else entirely. A little blue goblin almost got us killed.”

“A blue goblin, you say?” Fa’ss’th asked.

“That’s what it looked like, at least. Why, does that sound familiar to you?” Barak finished manifesting a power and ectoplasm coated his hands briefly. A low hum filled the air. Calix stared. “What did he just do?”

“Healed your friend,” Barak said, grimacing as wounds appeared on his arms. He concentrated some more and they gradually disappeared. “Would you prefer me to stop?”

“N-no . . .”


“Are you a cleric?”

“No,” Barak said tiredly. “I’m a psion. That ‘little blue goblin’ you encountered was also a psion, most likely.”

Calix shook his head. “We’ve never encountered anything like this before. Then we find it twice in one day. Wayland is going to kill me when he wakes up.”

Demaris chuckled. “You don’t think it’s a coincidence, do you? Sythillis has a contingent of psionic monsters working for his army. That’s essentially why we’re here: to try and stop him.”

“The five of you against an army?” Calix asked dubiously.

“There should be six of us,” Oren said. “Where is Yorick?” After a brief search, they were forced to conclude that Yorick was nowhere in the village. There were no tracks, no sign of any disturbance.

“Did he just fly away?” Demaris demanded.

“It looks that way,” Oren said, examining the faint traces.

“Great,” Demaris said. “We don’t have time to search for him, he’ll have to sink or swim on his own.”

“Demaris!” Olena said, shocked.

“It’s the plain truth! Besides, I’m not sure I trusted him all that much.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say!” Olena said.

“It’s also the truth. Do you want me to lie about it instead?”

“That’s enough, Demaris,” Barak said grimly. “You’re right, we don’t have time, but if you didn’t trust Yorick, you should have said so to his face.”

“Sure, fine, whatever,” Demaris said.

“You have a bad attitude.”

“And you’re going to improve it by yelling at me? I’m here to get a job done, not to be nice. If you want sugar-coating, you’re in the wrong line of work. You have certain expectations, and that would be dandy except that they paralyze you when things aren’t what you expect. I don’t have expectations. I just deal with things. Pretty soon, you’ll be glad you have someone along with a bad attitude, because I will deal with Sulveig. Will you? Or will you go so far and decide that it’s too inconvenient or too hard and someone else should do it?

“We’re all here to take care of Sulveig,” Olena said.

“No.” Olena began to protest and Demaris held up a hand to forestall her. “Oh, I’ll grant you all came along for the ride, probably with the best of intentions. But there’s not so much as a teaspoonful of conviction in the lot of you. If you only came along to be nice then go home, because it’s only going to get worse from here.”

“Is that a threat?” Barak asked.

“No, it’s a fact.”

“Maybe, but to me, it sounds like a threat, because you go out of your way to make things harder on yourself and thus, on us. I, personally, don’t appreciate it very much. At the very least, if you refuse to be nice, then have the grace to leave it alone.”

Demaris raised an eyebrow at Barak and gave him a hard stare. He returned her gaze levelly. After a long, breathless moment she smiled. It was a sarcastic smile involving only half her mouth, but a real smile nonetheless. “All right, kiddo, you win.”


“Barak, then.”

“Don’t forget it.” They settled down more-or-less amicably. Olena turned a blank look on Oren.

“What was that all about?”

The paladin pursed his lips and thought hard for a moment. “It’s hard to explain.”


“You meet people like Demaris sometimes. At first, they seem like a plain bully, abusive, cruel, demanding.”

“Demaris isn’t a bully,” Olena said, perplexed.

“No?” Oren asked chuckling slightly. “What was it she just tried to do to Barak? Your real bully, though, is happy with being a bully. He likes it when people are weaker than he is. He likes having people he can push around. If you stand up to him, he might leave you alone, and if you prove that you’re actually stronger than he is he may become your sycophant because he doesn’t know any other way to behave. Demaris is the opposite. If she discovers she can bully you, she won’t. It’s not her style. She’ll treat you like a pet that can’t look out for itself. That’s not what she wants, though.”

“What does she want?”

“She wants you to stand up to her and prove you’re her equal. Not her better . . .you’ll never convince her that anyone is better than she is. She’d stand up to a god and spit in his eye. You can’t put her in her place, because she doesn’t think she has one. But if you assert yourself as her equal and demonstrate it, she’ll be happy to defer to you.”

“What? Why?”

“Because she’d rather someone else was boss, but she doesn’t trust most people with the position. Well, most of the time. Being the boss of Demaris is never going to be easy or comfortable for anyone.”

Olena shook her head violently. “That’s really . . . strange. Really, really strange. She can’t earn many friends that way.”

“Are you two DONE over there?!” Demaris shouted. Olena jumped.


“Not like that,” Oren whispered, squeezing Olena’s shoulder gently. Olena bit her lip.

“Sorry, we know you can’t get by without us for a whole entire minute!” Olena yelled. “Don’t worry, we’re coming to rescue you!”

Demaris chuckled and turned away, shaking her head. Oren winked at Olena. “You see?”

Fa’ss’th waved his hands frantically at the newcomers while the heated discussion went on behind him. “Calix, someone has to take these villagers to safety. We can’t do it.”

Calix nodded. “Yes, but where?”

“We know a safe place. You can take the villagers there, most of the supplies and, uh, some dragon eggs.”

“Dragon eggs?!” Isaic squeaked. Calix grinned.

“That sounds like a real adventure.”

“Oh nooooo . . .” Isaic whimpered.

The surviving women left quietly with Calix’s riders. Freed of concern for their welfare, Fa’ss’th, Barak, Oren, Olena and Demaris turned north, towards Athkatla. They rode for two days through trampled lands picked clean by the army. By the afternoon of the second day, they could smell smoke, and that night was not entirely dark. A deep orange glow hung on the horizon all night. A few hours later, they could see the source of the glow. Athkatla was burning.

The entire city wasn’t on fire, but it cast a dark pall for many miles in all directions. A black mass clung to the walls like a foul fungus: Sythillis’ army. The walls were breached in several places and it was obvious the fighting had spread through the streets. At this distance, it was impossible to tell whether the defenders were still holding. Everything looked like chaos.

Olena squinted into the distance, along the coast. “There’s a shipbuilding facility down there . . .it looks empty. I see a ship! We could try using it to get into the city . . . if anyone knows how to sail one.”

“All this smoke will make good cover,” Fa’ss’th mused.

Demaris frowned. “If there’s a ship, there may already be some sailors down there.”

“Anyone have any better ideas?” Barak asked. Oren stared at the city, his face blank with horror. Barak reached over and grabbed the paladin’s reins. “I’m going to take that as a no. Let’s get moving.” They began making their way down the slope towards the coast. Olena nudged her horse forward and gripped Oren’s shoulder.

“Oren, we have to go, we can’t help them from here.” He blinked and his eyes focused on her.

“Ah . . . yes. Let us be off. We should see if we can reach the Order building once we get into the city, though.”

“All right, then.”

As they approached the little shipyard, it became obvious that it wasn’t entirely abandoned. Two figures stood on guard at a gangway leading onto the ship. They looked a little too bulky to be human.

“Not the usual crew, I suppose?” Olena said quietly.

“It could be,” Demaris said. Only one way to find out, really.”

“It’s a war,” Fa’ss’th said. “No pondering, let’s just march up there.”

“Right,” Olena announced and urged her horse forward. “You! Look alive there!”

Demaris grinned. “I like this idea.”

At close range, the guards appeared to be hobgoblins in simple leather armor. They leveled tridents in Olena’s direction and one turned his head and bellowed at the ship. Fa’ss’th flung up his arms and chanted. Instantly, a thousand streamers of sticky goo formed and settled over the gangplank. The hobgoblins howled, stuck fast. There was a commotion aboard the ship and four more hobgoblins, one wearing a chain shirt, burst out of the hatches. They stopped at the edge of the goo and began shouting. Oren cheerfully shot one in the chest.

The stuck hobs were quickly dispatched as Barak began firing lances of fire and crackling electricity into the melee. The other hobgoblins jumped off the side of the ship, injuring themselves a bit as they landed. Olena, Demaris and Oren drew weapons and charged them. Olena cried out in pain as the hobgoblin in chainmail buried a trident in her chest. The tines of the weapon glowed blue and her flesh froze around them. Oren struck the monsters, his sword glowing whitely for a moment with holy wrath. Then Olena whipped her greatsword around and decapitated her attacker, nearly killing the hobgoblin next to him as well.

The melee was so fast and furious that only one of the hobgoblins had time to think about escaping. He jumped into the water as his last comrade fell, disappearing somewhere among the rotting piles and contrivances of the shipyard. In the silence after the battle, they could faintly hear cries coming from inside the ship.

“Hey! Hey! Is someone there?!” Olena flitted up onto the ship and Barak burned off the remaining webs to join her. They pulled the hatch open and peered down into darkness.

“We’re down here! In the hold!”

“We’re coming!” Olena said as they jumped down into the belly of the ship. They located the massive iron cage that passed as a brig; a dozen sailors were locked inside. Olena started to pull out her greatsword again but Barak waved her away and concentrated for a moment. There was a loud click and the padlock fell to the floor. The crew stared at the two of them in silence.

“I’m Olena, this is Barak,” she said a bit uncertainly.

“Do you have any wounded?” Barak asked. From the back of the cage a stocky human pushed himself forward.

“We’re fine. Where’s the Captain?” He demanded belligerantly.

“We haven’t seen your captain yet,” Olena said. “We have to secure the rest of the ship still. If we help you, can you take us to Athkatla?”

“That’s up to the Captain, miss.”

“Then we’ll find him. Or her?”

The man scowled, disgusted. “Him, miss. We’re not fighters, we’ll stay here while you look.” Olena left to locate the Captain. Barak glared at the spokesman.

“This is how you talk to the lady who just fought her way onto your ship to help you? And now you’ll stay here rather than help look for your captain?”

“We don’t want no trouble.”

“Really?” Barak said. “Well, you’re going about it the wrong way,” he said, and turned to leave. Outside, Fa’ss’th was looting the hobgoblin bodies and pushing them, one by one, into the sea, with a little help from Demaris and Oren in the heavy lifting department. Olena winced at the sight.

“That’s . . . does anyone want to help us look?”

“Look for what?” Demaris asked.

“For the Captain. Or any more threats on board.”


They located the Captain very quickly by the simple expedient of looking inside the Captain’s cabin. A human in his late thirties with light brown hair and muddy blue eyes was tied to a chair inside, a gag over his mouth. “Mmph!” he said. Olena pulled out the gag. “Thank you! Is my crew all right?”

“Yes, they’re down in the hold,” Olena told him.

“Good. I wasn’t sure what to expect when those hobgoblins stormed aboard and took us all prisoner.”

“Do you know what they wanted with your ship?”

“I’m afraid not. They didn’t seem eager to damage it, though. Thank you kindly for your assistance. What brings you here?”

“We need to get into Athkatla. Your ship seems like our best chance. How long have you been kept here? Do you know?”

“A couple of days, at least. Is there some reason you can’t just walk to Athkatla?”

“Well, it’s sort of occupied by an army currently.”

The Captain’s face whitened. “Well, that would explain why it took two days for someone to notice we were kidnapped.” He marched briskly onto the deck and pulled out a spyglass, training it towards the city. “It doesn’t look good,” he said after a while, “but if you’re willing to wait until nightfall, we should be able to drop you off quietly. I won’t question your desire to enter the city, that’s your business, not mine. I’ll get the crew up here and we’ll cast off immediately. You folks may want to get some rest.” He hesitated. “Oh, my name is Garmon, by the way, Captain of the Starless Sky.” He bowed.

“Well met, Captain Garmon. I’m Olena.”

“A lovely name for a lovely lady,” he said, taking her hand. She blushed, confused, and glanced over at Oren. The paladin was not paying attention; he was preoccupied with watching the city again.

“I’d better get Fa’ss’th!” Olena said and darted away, almost tripping over the lizard as he came up the gangplank. Fa’ss’th blinked at her in confusion, then shrugged and began stashing his gear aboard the ship.

In the wee hours of the morning, while it was still dark, they climbed off the Starless Sky onto an unoccupied pier. The smoke and the stench of burning were terrible. Far above, something flashed a brilliant gold. It soared for a moment, then stooped into a sickening dive. A line of brilliant light tore away from it and obliterated a distant building. Fa’ss’th grimaced.

“We need to get someplace and stash these two eggs, the dragon is circling overhead.”

“Does anyone know the city?” Olena asked, holding her nose futilly.

“Of course,” Oren said. “I would like to head towards the Temple district and see what the Order is doing. Very likely they are organizing a defense of some kind and we will be able to assist them.”

“Is it far?” Olena asked.

“We will have to cross the river, and the bridge is likely a site of great contention.”

“Let’s stash the loot first, it’s not going to be easy to go down these streets with a cart. Then we can try to bargain with the dragon. I think that kind is good-natured, at least the one from the swamp was.” The dragon swooped and dove again, burning down a group of stubborn defenders.

“Maybe we should hurry,” Barak said.

They made their way through the streets, skirting the edge of a massive white structure that resembled a games arena or circus. A loud voice suddenly shouted, “HOLD! SHOW YOURSELVES!”

Everyone looked around, baffled, then looked up. A dozen or more archers were perched on top of the white marble wall looming above. They weren’t wearing any kind of uniforms, making them look more like bandits than soldiers or militia.

“Blast,” Olena said.

“DO WE LOOK LIKE HOBGOBLINS TO YOU?!” Demaris bellowed. Almost by instinct, Oren and Barak grabbed her arms and hauled her backwards, Barak helpfully putting his hand over her mouth. “Mmph!” she protested.

“Apologies!” Fa’ss’th said smoothly. “We are merchants. Do you have a safe place we can hide?”

“Go around to the entrance and ask for Quentin.”

“Right! Thank you!” Olena said as they dragged Demaris down the street.

“Idiots,” she announced.

“Hey, watch it, lady!” one of the archers snapped.

“We discussed this, Demaris,” Barak said scathingly.

“Sorry. I get a little nervous when people point bows at me.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t yell at them. Just a hint.”


“What is this place?” Olena asked, looking at Oren.

“Waukeen’s Promenade. It’s like a marketplace, only more so.”

“Oh,” she said.

The entrance to the Promenade was blocked by some overturned carts and guarded by a surly human and half-orc. Fa’ss’th shouted, “Quentin!” and they stood aside, waving the party through. Inside, everything was tidy and organized. One side of the open area was taken up by a makeshift hospital and kitchen. Tents were pitched to shelter large numbers of civilians. The guards pointed at a tall, lean man in rich robes. He was relaxing in a chair. His hair and beard looked clean and freshly trimmed, and he held a delicate china cup in one hand as he spoke quietly with a huge, bald man in a blacksmith’s apron.

“That’s Quentin.” As they approached, the man stood and bowed formally.

“Welcome. Please, join us. I am afraid you find us in rather strained circumstances, but I am certain we can find you some accommodations. This is Cedric, foremost blacksmith in the city. Would you care for some tea? There is also chocolate if you prefer.”

“You seem to be doing pretty well, considering there’s a war on,” Demaris noted.

“Indeed, madam, we have organized our own defense and handled our own concerns. War is no reason to let yourself fall into poor habits. We are somewhat enclosed, here, do you have news of the rest of the city?”

“We’ve only just arrived,” Olena explained.

“You came from outside?”

“Yes, the city is surrounded, we were lucky to get in.”

“That doesn’t sound good. I was hoping . . . ah, well. We can hold out here for a few more days, if necessary. If you need healing, potions or the like, you should speak to Old Felda. Will you be joining in our defense? Currently our greatest difficulty is with the cursed dragon. It hasn’t attacked us directly yet, but when it flies overhead sometimes the archers will panic and fall to their deaths.”

“We may be able to fix that,” Fa’ss’th said.

“I am sure we have a few extra bows around here, if you want to help with the walls . . .”

Fa’ss’th chuckled. “That’s not quite what I meant.”

“Ah. I hesitate to ask, but if you are capable of doing something about the dragon, we may be able to begin retaking local streets. At the very least, you may leave your belongings here in safety.”

“Right. Do you have some paint?” Fa’ss’th asked. “And is there a big, flat roof around here I can make use of?”

Quentin blinked in surprise, but rallied quickly. “We have paint and an adequate supply of rooftops, I belive.”

“Great,” Fa’ss’th said. In short order he was escorted to a high building and hoisted onto the roof by mystified archers. Working quickly, he painted in Draconic: “Dragon Eggs Recovered. Negotiation Requested. Meet us Here.”

“There. That should get its attention.”