Campaign of the Month: December 2007

Cold Blood

Episode 11: The God-Stealers
In which our heroes meet a lot of Thunder Lizards and make some evil fellows Very Unhappy.

(image by Tony DiTerlizzi, from the “Liber Benevolentiae” book in Planes of Conflict)

Haden looked around at the oppressive yet apparently empty jungle. “So what do we do now?”

Talan pointed away from the clearing. “There’s a path here . . . of sorts. It looks like some large animals came through here recently. VERY large animals, look at this.” Thick branches more than ten feet from the ground were snapped in half, revealing green wood sticky with sap, and some trees had even been uprooted and trampled underfoot. Water seeped into wide, roundish footprints with short triangular toes.

Sheen poked Talan in the shoulder. “Here, you’d better carry this sword. Maybe it’s useful for something.”

“Thanks,” the ranger said absently, shoving the blade most of the way into his backpack, the hilt still protruding. Sheen looked at the tracks.

“I don’t see any other way to go. Let’s give it a try, at least, they may be herbivores.”

“It’s not like we have a lot of other choices,” Talan said. They set off.

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Interlude: Mad Witch Blues
In Which Hexla Meets a Friend.

by DarthKrzysztof

Jazra stared at the bottom of her mug, just visible through the firewine. This stuff was cheap, to be sure, but at least it was cheaper for her. The management at Vander’s allowed the tiefling to stay for free, and extended a deep discount on her purchases, in exchange for all the business her touting brought in. With nothing better to do tonight, she was trying to get drunk, and having a rough time of it, given her light coin purse.

She looked up to see Hexla coming through the front door, dazzling in her red dress, holding her gold dragon mask in one hand. Seeing Jazra, Hexla headed straight for her table and sat down. She stuck out like a sinner on Mount Celestia in this seedy place, but she didn’t seem to care.

“So how did it go?” Jazra asked, though the answer was already visible on the witch’s troubled face. Hexla swiped Jazra’s drink and swallowed it in one gulp; unsurprised, the tiefling signaled for another bottle.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Hexla sighed.

“That bad?”

“That woman! She’s – Margone is just monstrous, Jazra. I can’t come up with words for it, not even in Infernal. You should have seen how she treated her son!”

“You mean Haden?”

“I think that was his name,” said Hexla. “Do you know him?”

“Only by reputation.” Jazra ran a hand through her frazzled dark hair.

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Interlude: Caravan!
In Which Joris Dances the Night Away.

by DarthKrzysztof

Joris turned his attention to the dark woman in the doorway, a woman clearly born of evil, accustomed to wickedness. What a lovely and terrifying creature this is, he thought. If only all women wore their natures on the outside!

He felt guilty for thinking that, but it was lost when Sheen left his side to help Haden with the half-fiend. Where do you think you’re going? he wanted to shout. You can’t just make an accusation like that and walk away!

But she had. And it wasn’t an accusation, really; she hadn’t meant it to be. That was Sheen’s way, he knew, to dispense with formality and cut to the truth.

Was that the truth, then? Am I the one who doesn’t think I’m good enough?

The music resumed, an easy, waltzing tempo. Joris turned toward the bar, intending to secure another drink, but someone glided into his path – a tall woman in a vibrant green dress. An elaborate mask of peacock feathers hid her face; her long hair was black as a cave, and she smelled of – what was that? It was nothing he’d ever smelled before, yet it seemed familiar. Comfortingly familiar.

“Will you dance with me, sir?” she asked, her voice soft, with an exotic accent. Before Joris knew what was happening, they were dancing, and he was aware of their closeness, of the heat between his fingers and her skin. That was always part of dancing, but it had never affected him so strongly before. I’m not that drunk, he thought. Am I?

He wanted to see what the others were doing, but found his attention completely arrested by this woman. “I’m Raven,” she said.

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Episode 10: Into the Woods
In which our heroes crash the party and head off into the wilderness.

The floor in front of Margone cleared with amazing alacrity as she swept through to Haden, the small red-haired tiefling trailing conscientiously behind her. Margone twitched her fan lazily as she regarded her son over the enameled and lacquered wood with a single eye.

“Invited, you say? Well, Jeremo is insane.”

Haden stood stiffly, his body half-turned away from Lady Margone, and made no reply. A nearby debutante, thinking herself clever, giggled and said in a stage whisper, “Maybe so. He does keep inviting Her Ladyship.”

Margone’s eyes swiveled in their sockets and her lips curved faintly upwards. “MacDaer, isn’t it?”

The debutante hesitated. “Why, yes. I am surprised you recognized . . .”

“I didn’t,” Margone snapped, closing her fan abruptly and pointing at the debutante’s midsection. “But only a MacDaer would so punish the seams of an otherwise innocent dress.” Sycophantic chuckles erupted from the gathering crowd and the debutante shrank away into the crowd. Margone placed a hand on Haden’s shoulder and pulled him around forcefully. “Don’t you have a kiss for your dear mother?”

“No,” Haden said, glaring into space.

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Interlude: Toranna's Visitor
In Which the False Dustman Meets a Stranger.

by DarthKrzysztof

Toranna shivered within the ratty blanket. Though accustomed to the Mortuary’s chill, she was not bothered by the temperature of her vault-turned-cell. It was the memory of Skall which was icing her blood.

She had never been so cold as she’d been in the factol’s presence. He was neither alive nor dead; was he undead? No, Toranna thought, suppressing another tremble. He was something else entirely… a living thing who’d come to embrace True Death. Only his dedication to advancing his faction had kept Skall in the mortal world. She was not surprised that her infiltration of the Dustmen was something he’d want to investigate personally.

Toranna blessed the Black Sun for her liar’s tongue, for Skall was a merciless inquisitor. She’d laced her confession with just enough truth to sound convincing, but she hadn’t given him the whole story, and she made sure that he knew it. It had nothing to do with loyalty to the Illuminated – it was a desperate ploy to stay alive. Skall had surely seen right through it, but he’d indulged her anyway. The factol would kill her in the end; Toranna was also certain of that. All she could do was pray for a chance to escape in the meantime.

A key rasped into the lock. She hadn’t expected them back this soon! She gathered her wits as the door squeaked open, allowing an unfamiliar woman into the vault. Dressed in conventional Dustman black, the newcomer’s face was remarkably nondescript, if such a contradiction was possible.

“Hello, Toranna,” said the Dustman, and the Cyricist could not place her voice, either.

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Episode 9: Jester's Masque
In which Talan meets a lost friend and our heroes learn more about Haden than Haden really wants them to know.

(image by Steve Prescott, from Whispers of the Vampire’s Blade)

Talan opened one eye and glared at the room door, which was shaking in its frame from the force of the knocking. He glanced at Joris, who rolled over and pulled the pillow over his head with a groan of complaint. Then he looked at Haden, who sighed, threw off his blankets, and staggered across the room. The door opened to reveal, unsurprisingly, an annoyed and impatient Sheen. Even though it was very early, she was fully dressed and looked to have been so for some time.

“What, woman?!” Haden demanded. “We’re sleeping here.”

“We have to go get that second invitation. Now. Today. You know, BEFORE the party.”

“She’s right,” Joris mumbled from under his pillow. Knowing the score, Talan rolled out of bed and began pulling his clothes on. Any attempt to argue would only serve to make Sheen even more angry and demanding.

Haden grimaced. “We’ll get to it.”

“We’ve been waiting five days for you to get to it. You’ve got ten minutes,” Sheen declared and closed the door, perhaps a little more forcefully than was strictly necessary.

“So where are we going?” Joris asked blearily, trying to figure out where he’d left his shirt the night before.

“A . . . house, in the Lady’s Ward,” Haden said. “We should probably take a cab, it’s a long way to walk.” Haden finished doing up the buckles on his armor and opened the door. Sheen was waiting in the common room, idly reading a newspaper. Sigrund the bariaur had already called for a cab. Sheen folded the paper primly and looked up at Haden.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were putting this off on purpose,” she said.

“We don’t all have to go,” Haden said. “I can just go by myself . . .”

“Stop trying to wiggle out of it,” Sheen told him severely. “We’re all going. The way you’re acting, who knows if you’d even come back if we just sent you by yourself.”

The four of them climbed into the cab, and the dwarven driver peered over his shoulder at them. “Where to, guv?” Haden gave an address that sounded like gibberish. The cabbie blinked at him. “Are you sure about that?”

“Yes,” Haden replied, his voice flat.

The cabbie hesitated for a long moment, then shrugged and twitched his crop at the haunches of the Arcadian pony. “All right, guv, it’s your funeral.”

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Interlude: Talan
In which Talan meets Ari.

by mpw

While yawning, Talan stretches and eases himself out of bed. Although it’s very early and the rest of the party is still asleep, he grabs his weapons and heads out of Chirper’s. With still a day to go before the Jester’s Masque, the party has decided to split up and finish any last minute tasks. Talan’s self imposed tasks, in no particular order, are to ground himself, clear his mind, and find some solitude.

As much as I like Sheen, Joris, and even Haden, all of this civilization is starting to get to me. I’m beginning to get that feeling again… the one where all the faces, shops, and taverns crowd and bleed together and I can’t breathe. Too much noise, too many bodies.

”...Hey! Talan,” says Thea.

“What? Oh. I didn’t see you Thea, and I certainly didn’t mean to trip over you. I’m sorry.” He’s been walking in a circle around Chirper’s, totally oblivious to the fact that Thea has been matching his pace for the past five minutes.

“Is something bothering you? Maybe I can help?”

Talan shrugs and gives a weak smile. “I don’t think so. Don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes I just need to get away … you know … from other people. Please excuse me.” Without a backward glance Talan speeds up his pace and walks away. Frowning, Thea watches Talan head toward a less populated part of town.

What’s wrong with me. Why can’t I just relax. I wonder how Hexla’s doing? Wait where did that come from… relax … breathe … relax … breathe. I hope this masque isn’t too crowded.

Talan slows down when he realizes that he’s actually found an empty spot under a tree. He drops under the tree, breathes deeply, and settles in to run through some meditation exercises.

Lick. Slobber. Slurp, slurp. Lick. “Hey! cut it out.” As Talan’s eyes come into focus he realizes he’s pretty much glued to the tree by a huge white and gray dog with blue eyes. “Hold still. Down!” Tongue lolling, the dog plops down next to Talan. “Beautiful dog like you must belong to someone.” Talan searches the dog for a collar or any identifying mark but finds nothing. “Well you’re definitely a she, maybe this is my lucky day. In any case we’ll see if anyone is looking for you. Come on let’s go and see if we can find the others.”

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Interlude: Joris
In which the Mystran is naked, in more ways than one.

by DarthKrzysztof

With the Jester’s Masque still days away, the adventurers used the time to pursue their own interests. For Joris, that meant exploring Sigil, learning more about the city’s unfamiliar gods and their worshipers. He also searched for any word of the Illuminated, with no success. This didn’t bother him, though; that sort of thing was hardly his forte.

With only two days left before the Jester’s Masque, they gathered at Chirper’s for lunch to compare notes. Joris wasn’t ecstatic about being Talan’s “date,” but what else could they do?

Joris got up to visit the privy. As he turned, he crashed into Marlow, the beleaguered halfling waiter. Marlow’s tray overturned, and three drinks in very bright colors spilled all over Joris’s tunic and breeches.

The cleric looked down at his clothes, sure that Haden was stifling a laugh behind him. Marlow produced a rag and tried to clean it up, but he was only making it worse. With a sigh, Joris excused himself, and headed up to the room.

Joris was squirming by the time he made it inside. He hastily closed the door and stripped off all his clothes, moving to the chamber pot to relieve himself. I can’t believe I’m going to another society function, he thought. Why did I dare to hope that kind of thing was behind me?

He concluded his business and crossed to his wardrobe, where he had stored a couple of outfits, including his costume for the Masque. He reached for another blue tunic – and realized that Thea had entered the room, and was now staring at his nude frame.

Mother of All Magic, please kill your faithful servant now.

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Interlude: Shopping
In which our heroes get a makeover.

Sheen sat down next to Joris and groaned theatrically, leaning forward until her forehead rested on the table. “I am SO out of shape,” she announced.

Talan leaned over and poked the rock-solid muscle under her sleeve. “Really,” he said skeptically.

“For smithing,” Sheen clarified, rubbing her arm and glaring at him. “I’m out of condition. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“So is that where you’ve been all day the past couple days?” Joris asked. “We were beginning to think you’d pulled a Haden.”

“I got a job in that shop we saw near the Black Sail,” she explained.

Talan scowled and folded his arms. “So you’re just going to go off and leave us, then, is that it?”

“No, of course not. It’s just a temporary thing. I’m a smith, Talan, I don’t think it’s fair for you to expect me to give up my life’s work entirely just because we’re not in Faerûn any more.” Sheen sighed and leaned back in her chair, stretching until her spine popped. “Besides, we can’t expect windfalls like this last job to come along all the time.”

Talan nodded. “Maybe we should all find work. It’s not good to be sitting around idle, and I’m sure we all have our passions that have nothing to do with hunting down missing barmies.”

“I’d like to find a temple of Mystra, personally,” Joris said a bit shyly. “Temples always need hands and feet, if not swords and shields.”

Sheen nodded. “What about you, Talan?”

The half-elf thought for a while. “I’m curious to know where all the food comes from around here, actually. Do you see any farms? Animal herds? I’m betting when I find out, I’ll find someone that’s also in need of some assistance,” he said. “And I like animals. Dogs especially. I’d get one, but Chirper’s doesn’t allow pets.”

“You actually asked?” Joris said, startled.

“Yes.”

“Well, that brings me to another point,” Sheen said. “Dr. Rhas has a room above the shop that he rents out. He had to toss out the last tenant because the man was a deadbeat. He wants me to take the room. It’s a lot cheaper than living here. And, well, it’s nice to have your own place, so you don’t have to carry all your belongings on your back everywhere you go.”

“There’s something to be said for the free and unencumbered lifestyle, though,” Talan said, smiling.

“I’ll bet you say something different the next time Chirper’s is crowded and they shove us all in one room together. You know how Joris snores,” Sheen said.

“I do not!”

“Sounds like a bull moose being strangled,” Talan said agreeably.

“It does not!”

Talan laughed at Joris’s indignant expression. “So now all we have to do is convince Haden to find gainful employment, and we’re all set.”

“Ah, but I already have a profession that occupies all of my time,” Haden said, sitting down. He was still a bit paler than usual, but when Sheen gave him a concerned look he smiled wanly.

“What’s that?” Talan asked.

“I lounge, my dear friend, I lounge. Someone has to do it so that all you busy bees get to experience the self-righteous pleasure of looking down your noses at me.” He feigned a long-suffering sigh and adopted a martyred expression. “It’s a terrible sacrifice, but one I will endure for the sake of my friends.”

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Talan said, chuckling.

“Are you feeling better today, though?” Sheen asked.

“If you’re asking whether I still feel that it would be a relief to remove my own head with a pickaxe, then yes. Besides, we have an important chore to take care of before we go get the invitation from my . . . before we get the invitation.”

“What’s that?” Sheen asked.

Haden grinned. “Shopping.” Talan and Sheen looked baffled, but Joris groaned.

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Interlude: Sheen and Haden
In which heroes at odds find common ground.

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Haden winced as spikes of pain shot through his skull. Someone was hammering on the door. He considered shouting at them to go away, but the agony he knew would result didn’t seem worth the effort. Fighting down nausea, he climbed off the bed and opened the door. This turned out to be a poor choice as well, because the hallway was brightly lit. Haden cringed and Sheen glared at him.

“Are you still in bed? I thought you were going to go get us another invitation to that party thing,” she declared without preamble.

“Not . . . not right now,” he said with an effort.

“What do you mean, not right now? What’s wrong with you? Are you hung over again?”

“Oh, how I wish,” Haden said, stumbling back to the bed and lying down again, his back towards the door. Refusing to take the hint, Sheen walked right in, sitting down on the end of the bed. Haden fought down the nausea again.

“What’s wrong with you?” Sheen demanded for the second time. “If you’re sick, maybe Thea can help or something . . .”

“No,” Haden hissed. “Thea can’t help. Nothing helps. Even drugs barely take the edge off. Just go away. I have to wait until it goes away on its own.”

“So you are sick?”

“No, I’m not sick. This is perfectly normal . . . for me.” Haden was startled to feel her begin rubbing his back. Oddly, the contact caused no pain. He sighed.

“What do you mean?” Sheen asked, her voice soft and gentle.

“Do you know what I am?”

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