Campaign of the Month: December 2007

Cold Blood

Interlude: Sheen's New Job
In which Sheen revisits the Hands of Time.

Sheen opened the door to the Hands of Time a little hesitantly. The shop was busy and the proprietor seemed to have his hands quite full. The small living construct spotted her and hopped down off its shelf again, waddling quickly across the floor to bump into her feet insistently. Not knowing what else to do, she bent and picked it up.

“Peep!” it announced.

“You shouldn’t go running around,” Sheen told it severely. “You might get lost. I saw a cousin of yours not long ago, but it wasn’t very talkative.”

“Peep!”

“Ah, it’s you again,” a voice said behind her shoulder. Sheen jumped. The proprietor reached out and took the little construct from her again. “That’s truly fascinating. It seems to have become attached to you. Yet they’re not supposed to be able to feel emotions.”

“I’m sorry to bother . . .” Sheen started, but the man held up a hand.

“Don’t apologize. We didn’t have a chance to talk much, before, but you don’t seem like the thieving type. My name is Pranav Rhasmanayet . . . Dr. Rhasmanayet, actually, if we’re being formal.”

“I’m Sheen.” He waited a moment for her to add more, then raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “That’s all the name I have.”

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Episode 8: Battle Royale
In which our heroes reach the top of the Citadel and have a nasty fight.

(image source)

Sheen stared at the golem. “This can’t be good,” she remarked. It returned her gaze with dull, lifeless eyes.

“Ever the optimist, you are,” Haden said. Very slowly, the golem turned back to face the sea of flame.

“It could be worse,” Talan said.

Perplexed, Sheen approached the golem. “Hey, do you speak?” It did not move or utter a sound. “It is a golem, isn’t it? What is it doing here?”

Joris frowned. “It may be here to defend the fortress against elementals. It’d be immune to almost anything they could do. Look how old it is. It’s very possible that the Illuminated don’t know how to control it.”

“That seems sad,” Sheen said. “Do golems get bored?”

“Let’s hope not,” Talan said, “ Or this one might want to play with us.” Haden yawned, bored. “Let’s go before we overstay our welcome,” Talan added, pulling on Sheen’s arm.

“All right,” she said. “Where to next? We’ve explored almost everything, I think.”

“What about those stairs?” Haden asked, pointing across the room. They climbed again, and went around a curve to another massive set of double doors. These doors, however, were hanging open, the room beyond a sheath of white marble. Five people stood in the center of the room, obviously waiting.

“Which one of you is the psionic?” one of them asked, stepping forward. It was a tall, emaciated woman with a nearly-skeletal face and yellow, spotted skin. Sheen recognized her as a githzerai, a member of a planar race known for their psionic power. She gripped the haft of her spear tightly.

“I am.”

The gith gestured and a blade-like plane of force appeared in her hand. “Good.”

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Episode 7: The Citadel of Fire
In which our heroes pass into the fiery pit.

(image by Alan Pollack, from The Eternal Boundary)

Sheen held one of the red glass beads up towards the portal and it flared to life again. “So, any volunteers to find out whether this leads into a fiery pit?” Haden reached out a hand a bit tentatively. When his fingers passed through the plane of the portal there was a terrible sucking noise and he was yanked off his feet, vanishing in a flare of light. The portal itself began to waver and flicker.

Talan’s eyes widened. “As much as Haden . . . we have to go after him!”

Joris nodded and dove through the rapidly dwindling portal, vanishing in a roar of flames. Sheen sighed. “I don’t see any other way forward, here.”

“Ladies first,” Talan said. Sheen took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and held her nose as though preparing to dive into water. Then she jumped.

“Good luck,” Rindo said as Talan followed, the portal closing on his heels.

The four adventurers landed in a heap on a wide flagstone terrace. “Well, that could have been worse,” Sheen commented, disentangling herself from Joris and looking around. They stood at the base of a cliff. Above them, a narrow staircase climbed along the cliff, vanishing into the heights. Beyond the edge of the terrace, a sea of eternal fire churned.

“Not exactly your island vacation paradise, is it?” Haden asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s a little more tropical than I like,” Sheen replied. “Enough messing around, let’s go find Toranna.”

“Not so fast, guys,” Talan said, indicating the five humans gathered around the foot of the staircase, watching them. They were armed and armored, and two of them were dressed as priests in long robes over their armor.

“Drop your weapons!”

“Oh, look, hostile natives,” Haden said. He did not appear impressed by the threat, even though the humans outnumbered them.

“I’m not sure I like your tone of voice,” Talan said. Sheen glanced over at the half-elf, who was gripping his sword and dagger tightly.

“I don’t think we’ll be dropping any weapons today, thank you,” she said.

“I don’t suppose any of you would like to simplify things and tell us where Toranna is?” Talan asked.

“She awaits the judgment of the Great Eye!”

Sheen rolled her eyes irritably and concentrated, a small, curved plane of force taking form in front of her. It hung in the air, glowing slightly. Haden drew his rapier with a silken noise.

“Here stand some angry threatening berks
shouting themselves hoarse and blue.
Well, let’s give them ‘em a side of the works
to go along with their barbeque,”

He declaimed. Talen, Sheen, and Joris all winced and glared at him. He shrugged. “Well, they can’t all be winners. Anything better would be wasted on these idiots, anyway.” The five men charged.

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Interlude: Toranna
In which Toranna finds out what our heroes have been up to.

by DarthKrzysztof

NOTE: This interlude takes place after session 4, in which our heroes dispatched the Shadowknave.

Toranna leaned over the last corpse, folding his right ear flat—this one wasn’t marked, either. She was expecting two tonight, and all she’d seen was the red-haired sod. What was keeping the Shadowknave? she wondered. He always took pains to make sure the Collectors would find his handiwork…

“Put this one in number five,” she announced, and her two assistants hoisted the body and carried it to one of the Overvault’s many portals, shoving it through with minimal ceremony. Donneray and Rindo had barely a brain between them, but at least they had no idea she was up to something.

Not like those sods earlier on, the Primes with the accursed Mystran. The whole point of targeting bubbers and barmies was that they wouldn’t be missed — now she had to deal with berks asking questions! They swallowed her line well enough, it seemed, but neither Green Marvent nor his replacement had prepared her for interrogations.

She would have to send the Shadowknave after them. They wouldn’t be hard to find, as long as that freak with the different-colored eyes was with them. Toranna snorted when she recalled how he’d fawned over her hand. Of all the nerve! The thought of the Knave slitting their throats brought her a moment’s satisfaction.

A scrawny githzerai came up one of the spiral stairs with a sack over one shoulder. “Got four more for you,” he announced. “Here’s the first.”

Good, Toranna thought. Maybe he’s finally come through. “Set him over here,” she sighed, pointing at one of the few empty slabs.

The githzerai complied, saying “Mourner Tom’s gang just dropped them off. No identification on any of ‘em,” before turning to leave.

As soon as her path was clear, Toranna glided over to the corpse and pulled back the bag — and let out a shriek which caused everyone else to freeze.

It was the Shadowknave.

Her mind raced. How did this happen? Who could have done this? Pull yourself together, woman! They’re staring at you!

She turned and offered a nervous laugh. “Sorry,” she said, “I thought it was someone I know.”

That seemed to pacify them, although Rindo elbowed Donneray as if confirming something.

The Knave must have crossed path with them — the pikers with the sodding questions! Cursing, Toranna raced down to her quarters, where she scribbled out a letter in the Infernal tongue. Once back in the Overvault, she surreptitiously stuffed it under the Shadowknave’s tunic, then marked him behind the ear with a bit of charcoal. “Number six,” she ordered, and the pair of Dustmen dragged the Knave’s body toward another portal.

That was the special portal. With any luck, Baltazo would get her message, and the troublemaking sods would cause her no more trouble.

If not, Toranna thought, it might be time to head back to the Moonsea…

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Episode 6: Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire
In which our heroes interview Eliath and inspire a leap of faith.


(image by Justin Sweet, created for Interplay’s Dragon Dice PC game) (source)

“But . . . but . . .” Sheen sputtered, unable to bring up anything more articulate. The man squinted at her.

“I’m sorry, have we met? I haven’t been in, ah, ‘The Cage’ for long,” he said. His diction and the way he neatly slotted quotation marks in around Sigil’s nickname made him sound like a Prime.

Seeing Sheen was not going to offer any useful information, Haden nudged her aside. “You’ll have to pardon my friend here. She’s had a difficult day. My name is Haden.”

Eliath leaned forward to grasp Haden’s hand. “Well met, friend,” he said genially, adopting the type of hopeful smile that the elderly and the forgetful frequently wore in the expectation that someone else knew what was going on even if they didn’t. Talan eyed the other men at the table, noting the armor, the weapons, the extensive tattoos and artistic scars. They returned the favor with interest.

“We have actually been looking for you for some time,” Haden continued.

“Really?” Eliath sounded flattered. “How interesting!” Haden had just begun to marshal an explanation when he was knocked to the side. He landed on the floor with a curse as Sheen grabbed the front of Eliath’s shirt and nearly hauled him bodily over the table.

“WHAT THE HELLS WERE YOU THINKING?!” she demanded. Eliath shrieked in horror and tried weakly to fend her off. Talan gripped the hilts of his weapons as the Doomguards erupted to their feet, knocking their chairs down. The curtain at another table flew open and more Sinkers piled onto the floor. Haden shot Talan a horrified glance as the tavern fell still, waiting.

“Sheen,” Haden said, trying to keep his tone from rising in panic, “Let him go. Let him go right now.”

Sheen didn’t seem to hear him. “You designed that weapon for Gyderic! What were you thinking?! I ended up in Avernus because of you!” She punctuated each word with a bone-rattling shake.

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Episode 5: Child of Light and Darkness
In which our heroes take a load off in more ways than one.

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

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.

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Episode 4: Knave of Shadows
In which our heroes have a few battles and find some useful information.

(illustration by Ned Dameron, from The Eternal Boundary)

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.

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Episode 3: The Hive
In which our heroes do some looking about in dark corners.

(image by Rick Berry, from The Eternal Boundary)

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 . . .”

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Episode 2: Bat out of Hell
In which another hero joins the escape attempt.

(image by Anne Stokes, from Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells)

Sheen looked down at the strange groveling creature briefly, then around at the blasted landscape. “They really need to hire some landscapers around here,” she announced. Her voice trembled only slightly. Probably the best she could hope for in the circumstances. Assured of self-control if not peace of mind, Sheen turned to the prostrate devil.

“What do you think you’re doing? Get up! At least pretend to have some dignity.” Sheen took a few steps down from the platform, striking an arrogant pose with her arms crossed and feet braced apart. The creature rose slowly to its feet but it wavered on its feet uncertainly. “Well? Do you have a name?”

“Halitsu,” it said in a voice like glass grinding together. Its eyes darted towards a large brass-bound horn positioned at the far end of the outcropping. It attempted a disarming smile. Sheen could hear Joris step forward to take up position beside her. He looked a little white, especially around the knuckles and the face, but he seemed to gain strength from her unyielding position.

“What do you know about this portal, Halitsu?”

The devil shrugged. “You’ve come to Avernus. I don’t know from where, I only know that it’s a one-way trip. The Bronze Citadel, fortress of Bel, is not far away.” Sheen glanced over at Joris to see if the name made any impression on him.

The cleric grimaced. “Bel is Lord of the First, the archduke of this layer.”

“He keeps the demonic invaders at bay,” Halitsu ground out. “All Glory to Bel!”

“Right,” Sheen said. So he’s in charge here? He sounds like just the devil we need to speak with, then.”

“Heh heh. It’s your funeral.”

“Have any other humans come through this portal recently?”

Halitsu grinned, seeming to relax a bit. “There was a half-elf a couple weeks ago, but he got away before I could get help. The other one, though, the other one was delicious.” The devil waved toward a heap of peasant clothing and well-chewed bones.

“Really.”

“Cari,” Joris said, sighing.

“The half-elf was some Clueless sod, not a couple of bloods like you two.”

“We happen to be looking for a ‘clueless sod’. Where exactly did he run off to?”

“East, towards the mountains. Prolly to see the mad witch. That’s what I told him when he asked about another way out of here.”

Sheen rolled her eyes. “Well that’s just so very helpful. I’m sure your important responsibilities prevented you from detaining him, so we’ll just have to track him down ourselves. Goo—er, Evil Day,” she spat and stalked away from the portal and the devil. Her spine tingled and itched; turning her back on the creature was sheer torture. “Come along, Joris.”

“Right, right . . .” the cleric muttered and hurried to keep up.

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Episode 1: Welcome to Hell
In which a trip to a wizard's home leads somewhere else entirely.

(image by Lucio Parrillo, from City of Splendors: Waterdeep)

A year ago Sheen would never have thought it possible, but the walls of Waterdeep were beginning to feel like a cage. She wrapped her threadbare cloak a little more tightly around herself, fully conscious of the contrast between her destitute state and the City of Splendors. It was just as well that she had little need for food; it had allowed her to stretch the money this far, at least. She went through her pouches and pockets methodically one last time looking for anything else she could sell.

The tools in her belt pouch shifted aside and something shone whitely beneath them. Mystified, Sheen dug for it, but only with the aid of an awl was she able to pry it loose from the cranny where it was wedged. It looked like a moonstone, and a large one, easily the size of the last digit of her thumb. Where had it come from? She didn’t recall packing it, but she’d been so hurt and terrified that she’d simply stuffed her pockets with whatever would fit. Perhaps she’d thrown one of Gyderic’s belongings into her pouch without noticing, where it had remained undisturbed until now.

She smiled a bit at the irony. Gyderic’s last act would be to pay for new clothing, lodging, maybe even a new start in a new city. She tossed the stone in the air and caught it with her other hand. One of her fingers poked through a hole in the glove and made contact with the stone. It began to vibrate slightly, emitting a soft glow. Then a voice spoke.

“Baltazo, if you’re hearing this then I am dead and my mission has failed. My pawn does not suspect her role in our drama, but the Cullers have caught my scent and I may be exposed before the artifact is mine.

“It now falls to you to avenge me. Years ago, before our current plot was hatched, the wizard Morard devised a weapon for me, similar in principle to Sheen’s creation but with far greater destructive potential. It was too blunt a tool for our attack on the Elder, but the time for subtlety is over. Now it will serve us well.

“Journey northeast to Morard’s home in the Larch Hills east of Redlarch. He won’t know you, but tell him ‘The Great Eye beholds the City of Mirrors’ and the wizard will know you speak for me. Bring the weapon back to Waterdeep and use it in the manner we discussed at the Feast of the Moon. Blame will fall upon the Cullers, and when the smoke clears the artifact will be yours.

“I wish you luck, my friend. I know the cause will live on. Your brother in arms, Gyderic.”

Sheen dropped the stone on the ground and leapt back from it as though it were a poisonous snake that might bite her. Actually, knowing Gyderic, that was a possibility. “That bastard!” She yelled, causing several passers-by to look at her oddly. Realizing her position, she scooped up the stone and stuffed it into her pouch again. There was no possibility of selling it now, of course. Anyone could handle the stone and hear the message.

“Damn him!” Sheen muttered viciously, winding her way through the crowd. “The Feast of the Moon is, what, five days from now? Where’s Redlarch?” She snagged a random pedestrian. “Pardon me, sir, would you happen to know the way to Redlarch?”

He stared at her blankly for a moment. “It’s northeast of here, about sixty miles I believe. You should be able to get there by following the signposts on the road.”

“Ah, thank you.”

“No trouble,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“I suppose I could go there and see about this wizard. It would be something to do at least, and it might even be profitable.”

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