Campaign of the Month: December 2007

Cold Blood

Episode 44: Thazia
In Which Our Heroes Enter a Dying World.

(image by Jeremy Jarvis, from Libris Mortis)

Sheen glared at the empty doorway in frustration. “Well, if you want to get Joris, then get him!”

“He is on his way,” Mal intoned. Within twenty minutes, Joris came jogging up the street. He looked tired and worn and had evidently given up shaving, but his face brightened at the sight of them.

“Well met,” he said.

“Are you having some sort of problem you haven’t told us about?”

“Numeledes passed overnight,” he explained. “I’ve been keeping a vigil, then I took him to the Mortuary . . .”

“Maybe he will bring us souvenirs when he returns,” Mal remarked gracelessly. Kal shot him a quelling glance.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Sheen said, but it was clear her heart wasn’t in it.

“It was his time. That doesn’t make it much easier, but that’s the way things are,” Joris explained.

“It sounds like you have enough on your plate without going to Thazia with us,” Sheen said.

“Oh, no. Firil said she would watch the Circle, and Kalisa’s slipped away again, so I’m actually free for now. I think she was going to hide that tiefling Noxana somewhere. Say, where’s Haden?”

“He decided to scout ahead,” Sheen explained. “If you want to come along, lets go, but I think you shouldn’t. You have no business risking your life right now.”

Kal shook his head and concentrated, reopening the portal. Joris shrugged and stepped through, followed quickly by Mal, Sheen, and Kalenthor. A feeling of great unease settled over them as they emerged in a graveyard under an ashen sky.

“Hmm,” Kal said. “Ambient.”

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Interlude: Assassin's Choice
In Which Jazra Looks for Xillian.

by Darth Krzysztof

Xillian’s going to assassinate Jhalefein.

Jazra could think of nothing else as she worked her way down the narrow alley to Alehouse Row and the Hooded Lantern. That was where the drow warlock Jhalefein had hired Tulio, and where Hexla’s friends had seen him.

If Jhalefein was still in the Lantern, then Xillian surely would have found him by now. If he wasn’t, though, where would she look next? Even someone as distinctive as a drow could find a thousand places to hide in the Cage…

The drow. How little she understood them! Xillian and Jhalefein hailed from a Prime anthill called Erelhei-Cinlu. Jhalefein’s clan, House Eilservs, lost the civil war there; Xillian’s family, House Tormtor, drove the few survivors into exile.

Xillian failed to capture Tulio for his masters – thanks to Tulio’s friends – and Jazra had believed that he’d chosen to forsake his House and live in exile with her.

Why, then, had he asked Tulio about Jhalefein? Was he planning to murder the warlock in some bid to regain favor with his House? And why hadn’t Xillian told her what he was up to? True, it seemed like he’d barely said ten words to her in the week they’d been together… they were together, weren’t they? It was so confusing. Whatever existed between them, Jazra had never felt anything like it before…

But now she’d arrived, and there was no time to think about such things. Offering a half-felt prayer to any power that might be listening, she went into the Hooded Lantern.

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Episode 43: The Dying World
In Which Our Heroes Learn Which World Is to Die, and Set Out to Find It.

(image by Dennis Cramer, from 3rd Edition version of Deities & Demigods)

Talan awoke suddenly, startled out of sleep by a loud crash and pained yell from downstairs. He eased himself out of Hexla’s embrace and edged his way toward the living room, where Yolette was scrubbing industriously at some bloodstains on the floor. She waved vaguely in Talan’s direction. Mystified, the ranger eased past her into the kitchen and through the back door into the garden, where Haden, Kal, Mal, and Sheen were gathered in a rough semi-circle around a man dangling by his wrists from one of the overhanging eaves.

“What’s going on here?” Talan asked. “I leave you guys for one evening . . .”

“We could hang him upside-down if you’d prefer,” Haden replied.

“What happened? Who is he?”

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Interlude: The Good Deed
In Which Opportunity Comes to Kalisa.

Kalisa sat in Haden’s chair, the book of parables in her lap. She was finally beginning to understand the stories; rushing to Joris’s side on Faerûn had given her a new perspective on what it meant to help others. Also, Yolette’s explanations of the morals were clearer than Joris’s had been…

Poor Joris, she thought, and not for the first time. He’d been dispelled back to Faerûn, then petrified, then disowned by his father. And as soon as he’d returned to the Cage, he learned that Numeledes was dying. Now he was holding a bedside vigil at the Circle. With Yolette at the Hands of Time, and everyone else out hunting for Lady Margone’s summer place, Kalisa had the house all to herself.

How had Joris grown so attached to the old man, whom he’d met only a month before? Kalisa (in one guise or another) had known Numeledes for decades. Was it possible that Joris knew him better in that shorter span? Mortals seemed determined to make the most of what little time they had.

And Kalisa would miss Numeledes when he was gone, certainly, but dying was what old men did. All the ceremony muddled the emotion that went with such events. Why not just feel what you feel, and be done with it? Maybe ritual was the only way Joris could deal with yet another death. He’d been through so much…

Kalisa had tried to join Joris in the vigil, but couldn’t bear to sit still for that long. He excused her, clearly appreciative of her effort.

An hour of knocking around the Circle and getting in Firil’s way had led Kalisa back here, to the house on Smith Street. The letters on the page blurred before her eyes; she couldn’t take another day of reading about good deeds. She was ready to perform some.

And as if on cue, someone knocked on the front door.

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Episode 42: The Tenth Pit
In Which Our Heroes Encounter Betzalel.

(image by Ron Spears, from Monster Manual V)

Sheen looked from Kalenthor to Haden and back, her hands gripping each other tightly. “So . . . what do we do now?”

“You know, I really should get started on that book,” Mal said, oblivious to the awkward atmosphere. He tugged insistently on Kal’s sleeve, startling the wizard, who blinked at him for several seconds before pulling the heavy tome out of his pack and handing it wordlessly to the warlock. “Thanks,” Mal said, somewhat ironically, then vanished into his cubbyhole.

“We got a line on Margone while we were in Dis,” Kal said to Sheen.

“Oh?” Haden demanded. “Where is she?”

“She was in the company of a remannon that stays at the Tenth Pit while it’s in Sigil.”

Haden frowned. “A remannon? That’s a type of devil. Do you suppose that might be Betzalel?”

“It could be. There’s a cleric involved, also, by the name of Orthros. It’s worth checking, at least.”

Haden sighed, then nodded. “Yes, let’s go have a look at it.”

Kal rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Haden, I . . . are we all right? I couldn’t have known . . .”

“What you choose to do with your time is none of my business,” Haden said with uncharacteristic stiffness. Sheen smiled a little.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Haden insisted. “There’s nothing to be done about it now, so let’s just move on. Whatever happens, happens.”

“You think something will happen?” Sheen asked.

“I know something will happen,” Haden replied. “Whatever it is, it will be bad. But trying to anticipate will only make it worse.” He offered Sheen his arm with rather more than his usual formality and ushered her out the door. The Tenth Pit was on the far side of the Lower Ward, close to the Ditch. Someone had made haphazard repairs to the second-storey window, but the exterior was otherwise much the same.

Inside, a burly creature drew pints of some fuming mixture and slapped them irritably on trays that smoked and sizzled where the spilled drink touched them. Nearly thirty fiendish beings ranging from a gaggle of tieflings to a lone Osyluth were crammed into the dense, hot room.

“Excuse me,” Sheen addressed the proprietor.

“Ja?” the creature asked, not pausing. From the voice, it seemed to be female.

“We’re looking for Orthros,” Sheen said.

“Nefer ‘eard of ‘im,” the creature responded instantly.

“Yes, yes, very nice,” Sheen replied with a sigh. “Would you like a bribe, or are we going to have to start a brawl?” The creature finally turned and looked at Sheen, sizing her up with great care.

“Vat I vant is money he owes me for room.”

“That can be arranged,” Sheen said.

“How much does he owe, out of curiosity,” Kal asked.

“Ha,” the proprietress said without humor. “If you can get any money out of ‘im, you can go up. Lousy god. Street trash.”

“Oh, we’ll get something out of him,” Sheen announced.

“Last door right. Tell ‘im Gondul vant ‘er money.”

The steep, narrow stairs led to an equally narrow hallway and a series of small doors. The hall reverberated with the sound of snoring, but voices could still be heard coming from a room at the end of the hall. Sheen looked at Kalenthor. “You have a good spell ready?”

“A couple, yes,” the wizard said, eyeing the door with trepidation.

“All right,” Sheen replied, summoning up psionic power of her own, but before she could finish the snoring was suddenly blotted out by a powerful mental voice.

<<so>> The door seemed to leap from its hinges as a tall horned male covered in sharp barbs erupted into the corridor, striking Sheen almost casually with a clawed hand. She retaliated instantly, almost by reflex, and impaled herself on several barbs in the process. Swearing, she tried to back away while Kal desperately chanted the words of an invocation.

<<suffer>> Betzalel roared. A black haze swirling with red flashes seemed to descend, blotting out the corridor. Sheen slashed ineffectually at the air as her vision and hearing clouded. Kalenthor’s chant turned into a confused babble. Sheen thought she heard him retreat back down the stairs, but she couldn’t be sure. Something attacked from the clouds, crushing Sheen against a wooden surface—she thought it was the floor, but it could be a wall or even the ceiling for all she could tell. She slashed at it and heard it howl in pain. Then a wave of psionic force rolled over her and the attacker staggered away to be lost in the murk. She vaguely recognized that the power must have come from Haden, but she could not even guess at his location.

Kal stumbled blindly and fetched up against a warm body. Horrified, he attacked it with his bare hands and heard someone swear.

“What’s the big idea, you lousy berk?!” Gondul leaned out over the bar, her eyes narrowing at the sight of the elven wizard.

“Fairies in the belfry!” Kal announced helpfully. “Must bake a pie!”

“Jannix, get a nuller up here!” Gondul bellowed. A skinny tiefling leaning against the bar raised a hand. Kal, Haden, and Sheen felt their heads suddenly clear.

“Thank you!” Kalenthor yelled and charged back up the stairs. A human in priestly garb shrank back from the sight of Sheen, Haden, and Kal. He glanced at the dead hamatula blocking the door, then turned and jumped out the window. Haden cursed and jumped over the corpse, grabbing the sill and shoving his head out over the courtyard as Orthros staggered to his feet below and began running.

“FIVE THOUSAND GOLD TO WHOEVER STOPS THAT MAN!!” Haden yelled. Within seconds, Orthros was buried under a mass of bodies. He struggled to get free, but in the end a tiefling urchin managed to grab his head and slam it hard into the cobblestones. Haden blinked at the sight. “I know that kid. Hey, OLEG!! You’re a lifesaver!”

“Heya, Haden!” The youngster called, waving an arm.

“I’ll be down in just a second!” Haden said, and hurried back through the tap room. Gondul eyed him balefully and transferred her gaze to Kal and Sheen as they followed.

“Sorry about that,” Sheen said.

“For the record, the devil broke the door,” Kal added.

“The place ‘as seen vorse,” she said, sighing philosophically. Outside, Haden laid claim to the unconscious cleric, removing his purse in the process. Gondul accepted the payment with a faint nod.

“Let’s get this reprobate somewhere safe,” Haden said. Sheen nodded and shouldered the unconscious body. The excitement over, the crowd began to disperse.

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Episode 41: Iron City of Dis
In Which a Portal Splits the Party, Casting Some Into the Second Pit.

(image by Warren Mahy, from Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells)

by Darth Krzysztof

“We should get back to Sigil,” Kalenthor announced, as Sheen left the room via the stairs. “The contents of this book might provide us with some insight as to Margone’s current whereabouts… indirectly.” Examining the inscription inside the book’s front cover, he added, “And we really should return this book to the library.”

Haden muttered his assent.

“What about them?” asked Talan, gesturing toward Splinter and Katrin, bound and gagged on the bedroom floor. “It doesn’t seem quite right to just leave them.”

“It’s a greater kindness than they’d do us,” said Haden. “Let Mother deal with them when she comes back.” He followed Sheen out of the room, apparently satisfied.

Sensing Talan’s unease, Kalenthor said, “They’ll wiggle free eventually. They’re bedsheets, not adamantine chains.”

“That doesn’t make it right,” Talan insisted. Ari circled around his legs before sitting at this side.

Standing on the bed to get a better look at the octopus illusion, Mal said “Maybe it isn’t, Talan, but do you have a better idea?”

“I can’t come up with anything at the moment.” The light from the windows began to dim, but none of the men paid it much mind.

“If you like,” said Mal, dropping down to sit on the bed, “I could set the sheets on fire. They’ll burn through long after we’re gone, and then they’ll be free.” A flame began to dance around Mal’s index finger.

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Episode 40: Margone's Summer House
In Which Our Heroes Venture into a Lady's Boudoir--Using the Term Lady Very Broadly.

(image by Stephen Fabian, from the Manual of the Planes, 1st Edition)

“Well, there’s no sense in wasting the rest of the day,” Sheen said. “We should go see if we can find a scale and a feather, then.”

“That sounds like a trip to Tivvum’s to me,” Sly Nye said cheerfully. “Give Lu my love, would you, Haden?”

“Why, are you suing her?” Haden asked.

“No, but I represented her in the Court of Woe a few years back. She’s a sweet old bat.”

The cab dropped them outside Tivvum’s Antiquities a little before lunchtime. The shop was crowded with daytime traffic, but Alluvius managed to locate a bright green scale and brilliant white feather among the heaps of junk and bric-a-brac.

“Well, should we go, then?” Sheen asked as they climbed back into the cab.

“I’m all for putting this off as long as possible,” Haden said quietly.

“I think I’ll have to agree with Haden,” Talan said. “I’m in no hurry.”

“Putting it off isn’t going to make it nicer,” Sheen chastised them. “It will make it worse.”

“We don’t have to go right away,” Kal said, “but Sheen’s right.”

“It’s like pulling out a splinter. If you wait, it’ll just get infected.”

“Yes, dear,” Haden said, endeavoring to sound resigned to the idea.

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Episode 39: Whither Margone?
In Which Our Heroes Go Looking for Lady Margone.


“Did you just say what I think you said?” Talan asked, startled.

“That’s right,” Hexla said. “I did it!” She beamed at the party, then her expression went stiff when she spotted Tarsem. “Have we met?”

“This is my, well, my brother,” Sheen said awkwardly.

“We had an interesting trip, to be sure,” Haden added.

“The kitchen’s finally done,” Yolette remarked, leaping out of her armchair as though it had goosed her.

“Oh, good job,” Sheen said. “I’m exhausted. Three days on horseback.” She sat down with a sigh. “What are we going to do next? Look for Lady Margone?”

“The best place to start looking for my mother is probably Honorgard. Felise knows a lot more about the family finances than I do. But we should really find a buyer for those poor animals first,” Haden suggested.

“I like my horse, I may keep him if I can find proper accommodations,” Kalenthor said.

“There may be stables at Honorgard that you can use, I’m not sure. In any case, we should head there soon.”

“Agreed,” Talan said. “Did you notice that someone was watching us from the street when we came in?”

“Is it unusual to be watched here?” Kal asked.

“I saw the man,” Mal intoned. “Lir is following him. He is most likely returning to his demonic liege to report.”

“That reminds me, a tiefling woman came by looking for you,” Hexla said, gesturing vaguely in Haden’s direction.

“What? Who?” Haden queried.

“She had catlike eyes. I’ve got the name written down somewhere, I think it started with an N.”

“Noxana?”

“Right. She said she’d call again.”

Haden shrugged. “I told her I’d try to find her a place to stay.”

“Speaking of places to stay,” Kal said. “Can you recommend a good inn?”

“Chirper’s is one of the better places we’ve seen here, but it’s a good hike. Vander’s or the Black Sail are closer, but they’re also kind of . . . seedy,” Sheen pondered.

“Well, I’m sure . . .” Kal began, but he was interrupted by a loud rapping on the front door. Joris turned the handle and peered outside.

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Interlude: Dark of the Matter
In Which the Cleric and the Ranger Swap Secrets.

by Darth Krzysztof

Joris stalked away from Mystra’s temple without looking back. Idiot! he chided himself. What did you hope to accomplish by coming here? He hasn’t changed. He isn’t going to change…

The familiarity of Silverymoon’s streets did little to comfort Joris, and he soon heard footsteps catching up behind him. He wouldn’t give Prestin the satisfaction of acknowledging his presence… except the steps were too light to belong to his father.

His follower was close now. Joris expected to hear Kalisa’s voice in his ear, but the words belonged to Talan: “My blood family’s all dead, and I’m glad.”

The ranger continued past Joris, not pausing to see the bewildered expression on the cleric’s face.

- – - – -

I’m going to be a father, Joris thought again.

Talan had asked him how it felt, but at the time, it seemed too soon to say. Now, after three solid days of riding through the north of Faerûn without much else to think about, the best answer Joris had come up with was “terrifying.”

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Episode 38: The Road Home
In Which Our Heroes Return to the Cage.

(map from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting 3rd Edition)

“Are there any survivors?” Kalenthor asked.

“I sense no thoughts here,” Mal intoned. Sheen tapped Lady Margone’s fan against the palm of her hand.

“There’s nothing here.”

“I expect the artifact is gone, as well,” Kal sighed. Sheen walked past him up the stairs. Tulio and Tarsem both watched her, but she gestured them out of the way imperiously. Her eyes flicked to the door, where a human-shaped shadow moved, then vanished out of the light.

“Who’s there?” a voice asked.

“You first, my friend!” Haden called out as Sheen ducked behind a desk.

“Is that . . . Haden?” The shadow edged cautiously around the door frame. It was a tall man, rail-thin, with blue robes and white hair. He held a hand over his eyes as he squinted into the building.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Sheen demanded.

“Now, be nice,” Haden told her. “My apologies, every time you run into us she’s having a bad day.”

Eliath shrugged. “I’m looking for a devil named Betzalel.”

“Is that so? We’ve heard of this devil.” Sheen said. “What do you want with him?”

“I need to talk to him about the future of my soul. I swore fealty to him before I went mad. Afterwards, he lost interest in me.”

“So you’re trying to hook up with your old boss? Why did you come here?” Sheen pressed.

“Because he has been here. I would like to terminate the contract, if I can.”

Haden tried to grab Sheen’s arm, recognizing the expression on her face, but she shook him off. “Oh you would? How very nice for you. So sorry, but the rest of us are a little busy taking care of the dead bodies!!”

“Sheen, calm down!” Haden hissed.

“We should go back to Sigil,” she said. “There’s nothing more for us here.”

“Shouldn’t we keep looking?” Kalenthor asked. He had climbed the stairs with Joris, Talan, and Mal. The wizard looked perplexed.

“No,” Sheen replied. “It doesn’t look like any of them escaped.”

“What about Eliath?” Haden asked.

“What about him?”

Kalenthor frowned. “I confess that I’m not really understanding your attitude here. It sounds as though this man may have useful information.”

“He’s also the person that sent us to Avernus and started this mess,” Joris said.

“I see.” Kal said quietly. “Are you also seeking the gem . . . what was it called again?”

“Kal, shut up!” Sheen ordered.

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