Campaign of the Month: December 2007

Cold Blood

Interlude: The Devil You Know
In Which Gyderic Confronts Baltazo.

(image by Ron Spears, from Monster Manual V)

by DarthKrzysztof

Baltazo looked up from his work to see Gyderic approaching, a stormy look on the elan’s face. “So, how did it go?” the changeling asked, keeping his tone disinterested.

“The Bleaker didn’t have the Eye,” the elan said.

“He never had it? Or he didn’t have it any more?”

Gyderic slammed his fists down on the desk. “He gave it to the adventurers. Those Gatekeepers!”

“So you don’t have it, then,” Baltazo said in the same half-bored tone.

“No. And I’ve been wondering why that might be. There’s no way the Gatekeepers could have known about the Eye unless someone told them!”

Baltazo steepled his fingers, then arched an eyebrow.

Pointing a finger, Gyderic said “You never explained how you got away from them in Plague-Mort.”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s on your mind, Gyderic?”

“You told them where to find me.”

“Of course.” Gyderic seemed taken aback by the confession. “What was I supposed to do? They made wreckage of my lions, and I couldn’t teleport away.”

A violet halo burst into view around Gyderic’s shoulder, and the elan growled “You treacherous bastard.”

“Pike it, Gyderic.” Baltazo stood and backed away from the desk. “If you’d killed Starwing, like I ordered you to, we’d already have the Eye. Everything they’ve done to thwart us comes from your sloppy work. I knew I should have sent Fade.”

“He never would have learned what I have,” Gyderic replied, circling around the desk. “And now, neither will you.”

“Do your worst,” replied the changeling, beginning a defensive spell.

“ENOUGH!” came a bellow from the hall, freezing both men in place.

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Episode 24: Key and Lock
In Which Our Heroes Obtain a Key, Yet Remain Staring at a Locked Door.

Haden stared at Lady Margone. “Mother?!”

“You were expecting someone else?” she asked.

“Expecting? No, that isn’t the word I’d use. Hoping, maybe. What are you doing here?”

“I came to see your father, of course,” Margone sniffed, leaning back against the couch.

“Is that so? And what are you after this time?” Haden demanded.

Lady Margone snapped her fan open in front of her face and fluttered it sharply. “That’s no way to talk to your mother,” she hissed. In the corner, Splinter took a step forward. Cerellis blinked in confusion.

“Is Haden here?” he quavered.

“Yes, darling, he’s just arrived with some . . . others.” Margone made the word sound like a pejorative term. Cerellis hauled himself upright and looked around the room until his eyes fixed on Haden, then he broke slowly into an incredulous smile. Haden clenched his teeth and shot Margone a poisonous look before making an effort to return the smile. It did not come off very well. Margone, in her turn, shifted her sneering expression to Sheen.

“My boy . . .” Cerellis said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Haden said shortly, then realized that this was a bit impolite. “Things are . . . things are actually going fairly well, for now.”

“Good,” Cerellis said, then repeated himself slowly, “good.”

“You remember my friends?” Haden essayed. “Joris, Talan, and Sheen? And this is Mal.” Mal waved a hand limply; he seemed engrossed in staring at a small jade ornament. Cerellis looked at each of them for some time.

“I . . . yes. I believe I do,” he said finally.

“I heard that you were . . . better,” Haden continued, “so I . . . we thought it might be a good idea to visit and . . . say hello. But if you’re busy, I can come back.”

“Your father and I were—“ Margone cut in.

“Enough!” Cerellis said, his elderly voice taking on a surprising tone of strength and authority.

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Episode 23: The Thief
In Which Our Heroes Once More Interfere in Someone's Life and Prepare To Visit Honorgard.

They walked through the streets of Sigil, not bothering with trying to hail a cab during the busy part of the day. As they passed the Tenth Pit, an alehouse more disreputable than most, the door burst open and a massive red-skinned devil trundled out, dragging a smaller devil by the neck. It looked them over, then turned and stomped into an alley, muttering something that sounded like: “. . . mouthing off to a superior officer . . .”

“I’ll never get used to seeing things like that wandering around in the streets,” Sheen said after it had left.

Joris looked over at Haden. “Are you? Used to it, I mean.”

Haden thought for a long moment, then chuckled. “The fact that I don’t really know probably means that the answer is ‘yes’. I never realized there was anything to get ‘used to’. If you think about it, humans are more of an anomaly here than devils.”

“Oh, I think about that all the time,” Joris said.

“We probably look as strange to them as they do to us,” Talan offered.

“I don’t know about that,” Haden said. “What strikes me as odd is that the planar creatures have use for or need of a city at all.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Joris said. “Yet they have so many.”

“Their existence is secondary, really, borne from the nature of the planes themselves. And yet they adopt so many human ideas, mannerisms, and habits. It makes you wonder who’s really in charge of the Universe.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Joris said.

Sheen unlocked the back door to the Hands of Time, looking askance at the Harmonium guards lounging around the front of the shop. “Should put up a ‘no loitering’ sign,” she muttered. “The washroom is that way. I’ll go get some towels,” she added, and hurried up the stairs.

The men peered around the back room, which was full of interesting gears, springs, and other bits of clockwork. A half-finished mechanical nightingale sat on a workbench. Then raised voices suddenly rang out from inside the store proper. Haden and Talan peered around the corner, trying to see.

Dr. Rhasmanayet and Yolette were talking to a Harmonium guard, a dwarf, whose back was to them. He was holding a young male human by one arm, and two other hardheads stood in the shop aisle, guarding the front door. Haden straightened up and strode into the room, his hands nonchalantly in his pockets.

“Well, hello,” he said. The dwarf turned: it was Fritzan Ringhammer.

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Episode 22: The Eye of the Dawn
In Which Our Heroes Discover The Object of Gyderic's Desire.

(image by Tony DiTerlizzi, from The Planewalker’s Handbook)

“Sooo, is anyone hurt?” Joris asked, healing his own spider-bites with a pained expression.

“I don’t think so,” Sheen said.

“Not really, just tangled up a bit,” Talan replied.

“I’m fine,” Haden said. “Sticky, but fine.”

Mal did not venture an opinion.

“Did that spider drag Firil down here? What happened to her?” Sheen asked, beginning to explore the lair a bit more thoroughly. Talan hacked the webs away and approached the pile of bodies. He unwrapped the cocoon on top to reveal an unconscious elven woman. She stirred as the web was pulled away, leaving nasty red welts on her skin.

“Are you okay?” Talan asked carefully, in elven. She didn’t respond.

“It may be the poison,” Joris said. “Let me try something.” He held up his hands and a faint silver glow formed around them. When he touched the woman, the glow sank into her skin and her breathing eased. She slowly opened her eyes.

“I don’t like this,” Sheen said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We can’t just leave her,” Talan said.

“I wasn’t suggesting it,” Sheen replied. “Let’s all get out of here.” The two of them picked up the elven woman and began carrying her towards the exit tunnel.

“We should set fire to the remaining webs,” Mal suggested. “There may be egg sacs or young spiders remaining.”

Haden hesitated. “It may set fire to the entire tree. I don’t think the elves would appreciate that much.”

“Perhaps not, then,” Mal said, bending down and liberating a sack of coins from the webbing, then climbed out of the pit.

“Where am I? Ahh!” the elven woman squealed as she was hoisted bodily up the passage.

“Don’t worry, we’re here to help you,” Talan said.

“I’m just supposed to take your word for that?” she huffed.

“Um . . . yes,” Talan stammered.

“You can go back down in the pit if you like,” Sheen added uncharitably.

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Episode 21: Trees and Spiders
In Which Our Heroes See The Elven Realm.

(image by Tony DiTerlizzi, from “The Travelogue” in the Planes of Chaos box set)

Everyone stood staring at Trillamir blankly. He sighed and said, very deliberately, “Unless I am mistaken, you were recently in Plague-Mort?”

“Yes, we were,” Mal affirmed.

“And if we were?” Sheen asked.

“We are simply curious about what you saw. Catriona’s information”—he nodded to the eladrin—“was secondhand. Not very reliable.” Catriona glanced briefly at Trillamir, then returned to scrutinizing Haden. Haden gave her a polite smile.

Sheen glanced at Mal, then shrugged. “We didn’t see very much, we were mostly concerned with personal business. There were some people who turned out to be demonic stirring up trouble, a bunch of rioting, and a monstrosity claiming some relation to Pazuzu showed up, so we killed it. That was it, really. We didn’t get to see a lot of the scheming and intrigue that we have to assume was going on in the background.”

Trillamir nodded, lost in thought. Haden raised a hand. “May I say something?” he asked.

“Of course,” Trillamir replied, not really paying attention.

“I know that I’m terribly, terribly handsome,” Haden told Catriona, “but all this staring is a bit unnerving just the same.”

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Episode 20: The Grandfather Oak
In Which Our Heroes Travel to the Realm of Arvandor.

(image by Tony DiTerlizzi, from The Factol’s Manifesto)

Sheen looked around the dim, smoky tavern, spotting Lissandra and Jazra sitting at what was apparently their favorite table.

“Oh, good, you’re here. We’re lucky today,” Sheen said to them as she approached. Lissandra’s expression was uncertain.

“Uh, hi Sheen. Glad you made it back okay, anyway.”

“Did I do something wrong?” Sheen asked, perplexed. Jazra’s expression was easier to read: it was downright suspicious. She started to say something, but Lissandra shushed her emphatically.

“I made a mistake,” Lissandra said quietly, “in telling you about that portal. Only certain folks were supposed to know about it, if you follow me.”

“I hardly think it matters, since we were looking to save Haden,” Sheen said, irritation creeping into her voice.

“It’s not like you to worry about politics, Lissy.”

Lissandra bridled visibly at the familiarity. “That’s what I want people to think, Haden.”

Jazra grinned. “Oh, that’s right! Haden! At last we meet.” She held out a slender four-fingered hand. He squeezed her fingers briefly and made a polite half-bow, but Jazra seemed disappointed. “You’ve got a bit of a reputation . . .” she said coyly. Haden shrugged.

“Yes, I’m sure I do. What were you saying, Lissy?”

Lissandra grimaced. “The truth is, I’m an Anarchist, same as Jazra here.”

Sheen shrugged. “Well, the League operatives on the other side were looking for help, and we helped. So it worked out.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Lissandra said.

“You can just tell them we were incognito or something,” Sheen added.

Lissandra shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t really matter so much, since you’re so definitely not affiliated with anyone.”

“You’re sure?” Talan asked.

“Yeah, I just wanted to make sure we all understood each other,” Lissandra explained.

Haden smiled slightly. “Am I the only one who finds the idea of an organization of anarchists to be somewhat amusing? Or, at least, oxymoronic?” Mal raised his hand. “There you go, that’s two of us, at least.”

“Organization is too strong a word,” Lissandra said, laughing. Jazra looked Mal over carefully, clearly enjoying what she saw.

“What’s on yer mind there, friend?” the tiefling asked.

“That’s Mal. Don’t talk to him,” Haden said quickly. “Gods only know what might happen.”

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Episode 19: A Little MORE Conversation
In Which Our Heroes Do A Lot Of Seemingly Purposeless Talking.

(image from In the Cage: A Guide to Sigil)

Talan propped his elbows on the table at Chirper’s and looked down at Ari, who gaped in a doggie grin and rolled over onto her back. “Where is everyone, girl? I thought I overslept, but no one is here. I hope nothing happened.” He poked at his breakfast and sighed, then nearly jumped out of his skin when Mal suddenly appeared at his elbow.

“Does this cloak make me look fat?” the elf asked, twirling around and then sitting with a flourish.

Talan shook his head, chuckling. “No, Mal, it doesn’t make you look fat.” Haden walked in, shaking rain off cloak and yawning. Clearly he’d just been outside. He looked tired, and paler than usual.

“Mornin’,” the bard said, sitting down and ordering a pot of strong coffee. He tossed a bag of gold coins and several items on the table.

“Didn’t you get any sleep last night?” Talan asked.

“Do I ask you your business?” Haden asked with uncharacteristic harshness. “And no, I didn’t get any sleep. However, we now know what dweomers these objects possess, so I count it as a win.”

“You know, for a bard you don’t seem like much of a people person,” Mal remarked.

“Don’t worry, Mal, I’m in too good of a mood this morning to care,” Talan said cheerfully.

“They already know me, so I don’t have to pretend to be charming,” Haden replied, gulping down coffee. It seemed to help a bit, and he rallied somewhat. “Besides, I don’t want Talan or Joris getting too attached to me, I might just have to break their poor little hearts and they couldn’t survive something like that.”

“Uh, good morning, you three,” Margram said awkwardly. He was carrying his suitcase. “Yolette is still sleeping upstairs. She said Baltazo never gave her a bed. I think she’s afraid she’ll lose it.”

Haden nodded. “I’d try to stay out of the public eye if I were you. Good luck.” Margram bowed, taking this for a dismissal.

“Thanks. I’ll see you around maybe,” he said, and departed.

“So, what is on our agenda for today?” Mal asked. “Dragonslaying? Crypt crawling? Maiden rescuing?”

Haden yawned yet again. “Sleeping, maybe?”

“Oh, don’t start that . . .” Talan said, breaking off as he yawned hugely himself. “Poor Yolette. She seems to have really taken to you, Haden.”

“It’s always like that at first,” Haden said, “but eventually she’ll realize what a worthless lay about I am and disown me.”

“Shouldn’t take long,” Mal affirmed.

“What are we going to do with her, anyway?” Haden continued, ignoring Mal pointedly. “She needs education and a stable life if she’s ever going to be able to take care of herself. Ah, look, here’s Joris.”

Joris hurried into the room, slightly out of breath. “Sorry I’m late, everyone.” He flopped down at the table and waved for the waiter, ordering a large breakfast and another pot of coffee.

“No problem, Joris, we weren’t really doing anything, anyway,” Talan said. “Just trying to think of what we ought to do about Yolette.”

“What do you think, Joris? I don’t know anything about children,” Haden asked.

“Mmph,” Joris said, trying to avoid choking on his mouthful of coffee. “I’ve got a sister not much older than she is. Let me think . . .”

Haden chuckled. “You’re awfully pale and mussed, you know, did you have an encounter with an amorous vampire or something?”

“Um . . .” Joris said. Haden’s eyes widened.

“Are you okay?” Talan asked.

“You look vexed,” Mal commented as Joris turned slowly pink.

“Something like that, yes, Haden.”

“You’re joking,” Haden said in disbelief.

“No. Listen, I have to tell you all what happened. It’s . . . about Raven, the lady I was dancing with at the Masque.”

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Interlude: The Metal
In Which Sheen Meets a Dwarf Bearing Gifts.

Sheen stood over the forge uncertainly, not really sure why she’d come in here at all. She should really be going to Chirper’s to meet with the others, but the prospect horrified her. It wasn’t so much that she’d have to face Haden—what could he do that was worse than what had already happened?—but that she wouldn’t be able to hope for something better any more once it had happened. It was almost as though letting the uncertain future become the past killed it somehow, and the pain of that death went on inside her own body. She couldn’t avoid it forever, but she wanted to hold it off for as long as she could.

In order to wait, though, Sheen needed some sort of activity to make the waiting bearable. That was why she had come here, she decided, she was looking for occupation. But the very feeling that made her seek occupation made the occupation itself impossible.

“Hello, there, lass, I had a feeling I’d be finding you here today,” a rough and somehow very definitely short voice said. Sheen turned around to see a dwarf entering the room. He smiled, and Sheen found herself smiling in answer.

“Eldgrim?” She asked, recognizing this particular dwarf from the Twelve Factols building.

“That’s right.” He flipped over a tub and sat down on it, watching her carefully.

“What can I do for you?” Sheen asked. “I’m surprised to see you, really.”

Eldgrim shrugged. “Are you now? I knew I’d be seeing you again the first time I saw you. You’re a strange one, for a human. You’ve got the metal in you.”

“What?” Sheen asked.

Eldgrim frowned in thought. “It’s hard to explain. It’s a rare thing, even with dwarves. It means that some part of your nature . . . your very soul, maybe, is metal. It’s a precious thing, among dwarves. You could be bound for great things. That’s why I’ve come.”

Sheen shook her head ruefully. “If there’s any greatness in me, I have yet to find it. Maybe you’re just imagining it.”

“Maybe so,” Eldgrim said, “but I’d be remiss if I just let it go by without at least making an effort. So I came more to talk about what I can do for you than what you can do for me. I can teach you . . . well, I shouldn’t say that, exactly. I mean that I can help you find a way that you can learn. That’s why I brought this,” he added, pulling out a bulky wad of leather and slowly unrolling it.

“What is it?” Sheen asked cautiously.

“It’s a Belt of Dwarvenkind,” Eldgrim explained. “Here, put it on.” He held it up to Sheen’s waist and cinched the buckles closed.

“These are rare,” Sheen said, fingering the leather. “You’re just giving it to me?”

“Well, not exactly,” Eldgrim said. “Being a dwarf, I don’t have much use for it, myself, but there may come a time when I need you. This is a down payment.”

“You don’t have to . . .”

“Hush, now, that ain’t our way! You should know that if you know anything about dwarves. The other thing is this,” he held out a few small vials. They appeared to be full of metal flakes, ground into a fine glittering powder. “There’s some metal in you, but it’s just the soul of the metal for now. It needs material to work with. Add a little bit of this into whatever you eat or drink . . .”

“I don’t eat or drink, usually,” Sheen interrupted.

“Then you should start. The belt will keep it from poisoning you or making you sick, and it’ll give you something to draw on when you need it the most,” Eldgrim said. “Now, I’d better be going, but it wouldn’t hurt you to come ‘round to Twelve Factols on occasion to watch and learn.”

“All right,” Sheen said. “Thank you.”

“Well, we’ll see about that,” Eldgrim said.

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Interlude: Raven's Revelation
In Which Joris Learns the Truth About Raven.

by DarthKrzysztof

Joris returned to the Circle, and felt his exhaustion lifted when he saw a black-haired figure kneeling before the altar. Though her back was to him, Joris was sure it was her, even before she said “Hello, Joris,” tinged with that untraceable accent.

“Raven,” he said, not sure what should come next.

Raven stood and turned to face him, the ghost of a smile on her lips. Gods above, thought Joris, but it aches to behold her.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

The urge to ask why arose, but he pushed it aside. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting,” he said, “but I’ve just returned from Plague-Mort.”

“I know.”

How could she know that? What do I say next? “Anyway, I’m here now.” The words fell from his lips like lead, but she didn’t seem bothered.

“I’m glad,” said Raven. “I have much to tell you.”

“I see,” he replied. “Um, have you seen Numeledes?”

“He’s upstairs, sleeping. Close the doors, Joris. Please.” He tried to keep an eye on her as he did. “I’m sorry I had to leave the Masque so soon.”

Joris walked back down the aisle toward her. “I wasn’t angry or anything. I just wanted to get a chance to… to get to know you.”

“That’s why I’ve come,” she said as he approached, though he stopped when that strangely familiar scent crept into his nostrils. “There’s something you have to know, before it’s too late. Whatever happens… please understand that I didn’t come here to hurt you.”

“I don’t understand,” Joris said, apprehension bleeding around the edges of his words.

“I hope you will,” she replied…

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Interlude: Sheen and Haden II

It seemed to Sheen that some hours passed, but she had no clear memory until she woke in her own bed, tired and drained but clear-headed, at least. Something had nudged her out of unconsciousness. Then she realized that Haden was sitting there beside her, his legs stretching from the chair to the bed. The only light came from the street outside, a faint yellowish glow that touched only half of his face, so that she could see only the baleful glare of his one red eye.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded, although her voice quivered and she sounded more afraid than she liked.

“I might ask you the same thing,” he said, sitting back.

“What?” Sheen asked. She sat up and discovered that someone had put her in clean clothing. What was he doing while I was unconscious? She wondered.

“Tell me about Gyderic,” Haden said evenly.

“That’s none of your business,” she snapped.

“I think it’s very much my business,” he retorted. “You present such a ferocious front that it never occurs to anyone to question you about your past, about your reasons for being here. You throw out a few words here and there about some Council that tortured you because they thought you were an accomplice in a crime . . . what crime? Why did they think you were an accomplice? Were you . . .” he stopped. “Are you still looking for him because you want him? Is that what this is all about?”

“Is that what you think?! Have you lost your mind?”

“I don’t know!” Haden shouted, flinging himself to his feet and pacing the room. “I don’t know what to think! I spent two days with his slimy thoughts in my head, tearing me apart, and all I could think of was . . . was, how could you ever . . . ever love something like that?!”

“It wasn’t like that!”

“Then what was it?! Give me something that makes sense!” Haden threw himself down on the chair again, leaning forward with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. Sheen sat up and brushed his sleeve tentatively with her fingers. “I’m sorry,” he said dully. “I shouldn’t be shouting at you. It’s been a long day, and I couldn’t sleep.”

“No, it’s all right. I just . . . don’t like to talk about it very much. I’ve never been so ashamed of anything before. I hope I never will be again.” Sheen sighed. “I . . . met Gyderic in Waterdeep, when I was sixteen. I’d been struggling for two years, trying to stay alive, to find work. The guilds have a stranglehold on business in Waterdeep . . . anyway, I don’t suppose that matters. No one had ever paid any attention to me, or thought I was anything special, but Gyderic seemed fascinated with me. He can really be very charming when he makes an effort.”

“I believe it,” Haden said quietly.

“I was . . . infatuated, I suppose. I didn’t really stop to think about anything he asked me, I just did it because, well, because it was him asking. Anything from letting him take me to bed to helping him build the device he tried to use against the elder. He tried to kill them, to assassinate them, and since I’d been letting him . . . use me, I must be involved, right? I must have known . . .” Sheen blinked her eyes, hard, her vision blurring.

“Don’t cry,” Haden said softly, stroking her cheek.

“I lost everything . . . my work, my home, even the man I . . . cared for. He just took it all away from me. For what? Ambition? Power? There was no sense to it. And he was dead, so there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even really think about starting over. Any time I’d try, I would start thinking of him, and I was afraid of it happening all over again. You . . . you must have seen how easy I am to manipulate. How I take everyone at their word. I grew up with dwarves, how was I supposed to know any better?”

“How honest you are?” Haden asked. Sheen looked up at him. He was watching her with a strange purity of concentration that made his features look stern, almost implacable. “Tell me . . . did Gyderic like to drink, and flirt, and . . .”

“Yes. Why? What does that have to do with anything?”

“It wasn’t me, was it? It was never me.” Sheen looked away, but Haden reached out and caught her chin, pulling her face up and leaning in towards her.

“Don’t,” she whispered.

“Can’t you trust me at all? Does everything have to be a battle with you?” Sheen shivered once, convulsively.

“I’m so tired . . .” Haden’s lips brushed hers lightly and his hands slid around her. Sheen sighed and tilted her head back, surrendering to the kiss, to the pressure of his body against hers. She closed her eyes and pressed her face, her lips, against his neck as he began unbuttoning her shirt. She even helped him with his own clothing and clung to him as he coaxed her into frightening ecstasy.

Exhaustion numbed her senses for a time, but she was aware, dimly, of Haden climbing out of the bed. She watched as he dressed in silence, not looking at her, and left the room without a word. Then it hit her, and she pressed her face into the pillow, trying to comprehend what she’d just done.

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